Up to 85 percent of patients in nursing homes and long-term care facilities are restrained by physical and/or chemical means that cause physical and emotional harm.

Physical Restraints Cause Injuries

Nursing homes often use physical restraints on elderly patients for their own safety, but excessive physical restraints can cause injuries and emotional distress. Physical restraints such as belts, straps, limb ties, vests, and bedside rails can cause cuts and abrasions, bruises, skin infections, and even fractures, broken bones, and permanent injuries in frail patients, especially those who fight the restraints. Elderly patients with cognitive problems, mobility problems, functional disabilities, dependence needs, and a history of falls are often physically restrained in care facilities. Although many nursing homes use physical restraints to protect certain patients from harming themselves or others, some facilities use them when they are short-staffed or to avoid frequent rounds to check on patients.

When nursing homes use excessive physical restrains that are not needed for a patient’s protection or medical treatment, it is considered a form of elder abuse. Some unethical caretakers take advantage of elderly patients by restraining them instead of attending to their needs. Excessive restraints on elderly adults pose numerous injury risks:

  • Bruises, lacerations, and bedsores
  • Urinary incontinence and/or constipation
  • Impaired muscle strength and balance
  • Respiratory complications and pneumonia
  • Cardiovascular and blood pressure problems
  • Malnutrition and dehydration

Many restrained patients also suffer psychological harm from increased agitation and emotional distress. In patients with cognitive disorders, anxiety, and depression, physical restrains often increase stress levels and make them react with verbal or physical aggression. For many elderly patients, excessive physical restraints cause embarrassment, loss of dignity and self-respect, social isolation, and depression. Extreme confinement commonly creates complications in both physical and mental existing health conditions. For some patients, excessive physical restraints increase the risk of mortality caused by strangulation, suffocation, and head trauma.

Studies show that most nursing home patients and their family members associate physical restraints with negative consequences, but caregivers and staff members associate them with more patient control and less chaos. Using excessive physical restraints that cause physical injuries and emotional harm to patients as a way to maintain order in a nursing home raises serious concerns about elder abuse and the welfare of elderly patients who rely on care and assistance.