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Z Gerontol Geriatr. 2005 Feb;38(1):19-25.

Why do we use physical restraints in the elderly?

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  • 1Universiteit Maastricht, Department of Health Care Studies, Section of Nursing Science, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands.


The use of physical restraints in the elderly is a common practice in many countries. This paper summarizes the current knowledge on the use of restraints in home care, hospitals and nursing homes. Between 1999-2004 the reported prevalence numbers range from 41-64% in nursing homes and 33-68% in hospitals; numbers of restraint use in home care are unknown. Bed rails and belts have been reported as the most frequently used restraints in bed; chairs with a table and belts are the most frequently reported restraints in a chair. It is evident that physical restraints in most cases are used as safety measures; the main reason is the prevention of falls. In the hospital setting, the safe use of medical devices is also an important reason for restraint use. Predictors for the use of physical restraints are poor mobility, impaired cognitive status and high dependency of the elderly patient and the risk of falls in the nurses' opinion. Furthermore, there are indications that restraint use is related to organizational characteristics. Finally, many adverse effects of restraint use have been reported in the literature, like falls, pressure sores, depression, aggression, and death. Because of the adverse effects of restraints and the growing evidence that physical restraints are no adequate measure for the prevention of falls, measures for the reduction of physical restraints are discussed and recommendations are made for future research.

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