According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, a physical restraint is “any manual method, or any physical or mechanical device, material or equipment attached or adjacent to the person’s body that the person cannot remove easily and that restricts the person’s freedom of movement or normal access to his or her body. It is the effect the device has on the person that classifies it as a restraint, not the name or label given to the device, nor the purpose or intent of the device. ” (PDF here)
“Don’t you look comfortable in that lovely chair?” a smiling woman says when she comes to visit, not realizing that her sister, like my mother, is trapped in the sunroom recliner as surely as if she were in a straightjacket. I say nothing. I don’t want to make the infrequent visitor feel bad, like I do every time I see my mother bound by the physical and chemical restraints that are the bars on the cells of this ElderJail.
It all seems so wrong and unfair. All Mom wants to do is get up and walk around, like she has done all her life, like the able-bodied among us do freely whenever we want. But she can’t because of the invisible chains that shackle her to the prison of a chair. Here’s what it looks and sounds like when the sedation of the chemical restraints wears off and Mom regains her ability to move:
And two days later:
And three months after that I take pictures and record as I help Mom out of the recliner just as I do every other day that I find her sufficiently recovered from being sedated to stand up:
These are not isolated incidents. This is what it’s like virtually every day of the last 1,000 days of Mom’s life. She is either sedated with chemical restraints or physically restrained in some way, all of which is abuse. Sadly, many many others who live with dementia in LTCFs suffer the same fate.
Safety is used as an excuse, whether it’s really an issue or not. For the most part, the real reasons people living with dementia in LTCFs are physically and chemically restrained are 1) the facilities are understaffed, 2) the staff are undertrained, 3) the administration finds it more cost effective, 4) the medical professionals don’t know any better, or 5) the staff find it more convenient for residents to be immobilized.
The effect on people who live with dementia is devastating. if the videos above haven’t convinced you yet, have a listen here: don’t fence me in: a true story about the impact of physical restraints on my mom who lived with alzheimer disease, and read the vignette here: please remain seated for the rest of your life.
Learn more about other forms of elder abuse here: 7 forms of elder abuse and how to spot the signs to stop it. Please join me in advocating for better elder care, particularly for people who live with dementia.