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Is It Ethical to Use Physical Restraints in Nursing Homes?

Garcia & Artigliere

In the past, nursing homes often used straps and other devices to confine patients to wheelchairs or beds. These physical restraints are not used as often now—but they are still being used. This raises questions about whether using physical restraints is ethical.

physical restraints The answer is that it depends. When physical restraints are truly necessary to keep patients safe, it is ethical to use them. However, when restraints are used to control patients just to make things easier for the staff, then their use may be unethical, abusive and illegal.

Types of Physical Restraints

Physical restraints can be anything that patients are not able to remove and which are intended to restrict movements. In addition to straps, other types of physical restraints include ties, bed rails, wheelchair bars, vests used to tie patients to beds or chairs, and tight bedsheets.

In recent years, nursing homes have increasingly started using chemical restraints. Chemical restraints are inappropriately prescribed medications, which are used instead of physical restraints to control patients. Just like the inappropriate use of physical restraints, the use of chemical restraints may be abusive, illegal, and unethical.

Why Physical Restraints Are a Problem

Using physical restraints on elderly people can cause many physical problems, including discomfort, pain, bruising, breathing difficulties, loss of muscle strength, loss of balance, incontinence, poor nutrition, a weakened cardiovascular system and risk of strangulation.

Psychological problems from the use of restraints include agitation, anxiety, loss of dignity, shame, apathy, depression, social isolation, and unwanted dependence on others.

Ethical Treatment of Nursing Home Patients

Treating nursing home patients ethically means respecting their dignity as unique individuals and helping them remain as self-reliant as possible. Patients and their relatives have the right to stay informed and make choices. Caregivers should respect the overall well-being of the patient, including not only their physical safety but also their psychological and social needs.

All these ethical concerns mean is that nursing homes should consider whether the benefits outweigh the potential harm when using physical restraints.

Nursing Home Abuse Involving Physical Restraints

The inappropriate use of physical restraints can be a form of nursing home abuse. When nursing home staff use physical restraints as punishment, or when the nursing home is short-staffed, or instead of other more appropriate types of treatment and care, it’s time to act.

Reach Out to Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers

If you have questions about whether a nursing home has crossed any ethical lines, call the nursing home abuse lawyers of Garcia & Artigliere. Contact us (800) 328-2630 to talk to one of our experienced elder abuse attorneys.


We offer free and confidential consultations. Call (800) 328-2630 Learn About Your Legal Options

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