UN Expert: ‘Chemical Restraints’ Deprive Older People of their Freedom

A new report by the United Nations independent expert on the rights of older persons presents disturbing findings about the deprivation of liberty of older people.

The independent expert, Claudia Mahler, found that, “in some countries, older people are more likely to be de facto deprived of liberty in care facilities than in prisons” and that the use of chemical restraints – medication to control behaviour without a therapeutic purpose – is “widespread and abusive.”

The report pointed out that In the United States, during an average week in 2018, more than 179,000 older people in nursing homes were given antipsychotic drugs without an appropriate diagnosis.

In 2019, staff in aged care facilities in Australia did not obtain informed consent from older people or their family members to use antipsychotic drugs.

Despite regulations introduced that year to minimize their use, chemical restraints were reportedly used in more than 150 aged care facilities between July 2020 to July 2021.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, increases in psychotropic drug prescriptions for older people in nursing homes in the United Kingdom and Canada may have added risks to those already among the most threatened by the coronavirus.

In this regard, we also highlight the potential dangers of such drugs to older people with dementia.

We also call on governments to ensure that older people have access to the care and support they need to live in dignity in their communities, and to limit the use of “chemical restraints”.

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