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Use of Physical Restraints with Elderly Patients

Physical Restraints and Side Rails in Acute and Critical Care Settings

Cheryl M. Bradas, RN, MSN, GCNS-BC, CHPN Satinderpal K. Sandhu, MD, Lorraine C. Mion, PhD, RN, FAAN

Evidence-Based Content - Updated July 2012

Reprinted with permission from Springer Publishing Company. Evidence-Based Geriatric Nursing Protocols for Best Practice, 4th Edition, © Springer Publishing Company, LLC. The text is available here.

Goal: To eliminate the use of physical restraints and side rails in acute and critical care settings.



A.   The use of physical restraints or side rails for the involuntary immobilization of the patient may not only be an infringement of the patient’s rights, but can also result in patient harm, including soft tissue injury, fractures, delirium, and even death (Ref 1; 2; 3).
B.    The primary ethical dilemma resulting from physical restraint is the clinician’s value or emphasis of beneficence versus the patient’s autonomy.
C.   Use  of  physical  restraint  should  be  used  as  a  last  resort;  only  used  when  less restrictive mechanisms have been determined to be ineffective; the use of restraint must be in accordance with a written modification to the patient’s plan of care; used in accordance with the order of a physician or licensed independent practitioner (LIP); must never be written as a PRN order; each order must be renewed every 4 hours, for adults up to 24 hours at which time a reevaluation by a LIP is required for reasons of violent or self-destructive behavior; each order of restraint use for nonviolent reasons must be renewed according to hospital policy; and restraint must be discontinued at the earliest possible time (Ref 4).

Background and Statement of Problem

A.   Definition:  The  Centers  for  Medicare  and  Medicaid  Services  (CMS)  defines physical restraint as “any manual method, physical or mechanical device, material, or equipment that immobilizes or reduces the ability of the patient to move his  or  her  arms,  legs,  body  or  head  freely”  (Ref 4).  Examples  include wrist or leg restraints, hand mitts, Geri-chairs, and, in certain situations, full side rails and reclining chairs.
B.    Etiology:  Hospital  nurses’  reasons  for  use  of  physical  restraint  are  prevention of patient disruption of medical devices and therapy (75%), confusion (25%), and fall prevention (18%). (Ref 5)
C.   Epidemiology
1.   Prevalence  of  physical  restraint  use  on  individual  non-ICU  rates  range from 0 to 123 restraint days/1,000 patient days, with overall rates ranging among types of units from 3.6 (pediatric units) to 49.2 (neuroscience units). (Ref 5)
2.   Individual  ICU  rates  range  from  0  to  267.9  restraint  days/1,000  patient days with overall rates ranging by types from 50.6 (pediatric ICUs) to 267 (neurology and neurosurgery ICUs). (Ref 5)


Parameters of Assessment

A.   Assess  for  underlying  cause(s)  of  agitation  and  cognitive  impairment  leading to  patient-initiated  device  removal  (refer  to  Chapter  8,  Assessing  Cognitive Function; Chapter 9, Depression in Older Adults; Chapter 10, Dementia; and Chapter 11, Delirium).

1. If abrupt change in perception, attention, or level of consciousness:
a.  Assess for life-threatening physiologic impairments
b.   Respiratory, neurologic, fever and sepsis, hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, alcohol or substance withdrawal, and fluid and electrolyte imbalance
c.    Notify  physician  of  change  in  mental  status  and  compromised  physiologic status
2. Differential assessment (interdisciplinary)
a.    Obtain baseline or premorbid cognitive function from family and caregivers
b.   Establish whether the patient has history of dementia or depression
c.    Review medications to identify drug–drug interactions, adverse effects
d.   Review current laboratory values
B.    Assess fall risk: intrinsic, extrinsic, and situational factors (refer to Chapter 15, Fall Prevention: Assessment, Diagnoses, and Intervention Strategies)
C.   Assess for medications that may cause drug–drug interactions and adverse drug effects (refer to Chapter 17, Reducing Adverse Drug Events).


Nursing Care Strategies

A.   Interventions to Minimize or Reduce Patient-Initiated Device Removal
1.   Disruption of any device
a.    Reassess daily to determine whether it is medically possible to discontinue device; try alternative mode of therapy (Ref 6; 7; 8).
b.   For  mild-to-moderate  cognitive  impairment,  explain  device  and  allow patient to feel under nurse’s guidance.
2.   Attempted or actual disruption: ventilator
a.    Determine underlying cause of behavior for appropriate medical and/or pharmacologic approach
b.   More secure anchoring
c.    Appropriate sedation and analgesia protocol
d.   Start with less restrictive means: mitts, elbow extenders
3.   Attempted or actual disruption: nasogastric tube
a.    If for feeding purposes, consult with nutritionist and speech or occupational therapist for swallow evaluation.
b.   Consider gastrostomy tube for feeding as appropriate if other measures are ineffective.
c.    Anchoring of tube, either by taping techniques or commercial tube holder
d.   If restraints are needed, start with least restrictive: mitts, elbow extenders
4.   Attempted or actual disruption: intravenous (IV) lines
a.    Commercial tube holder for anchoring
b.   Long-sleeved robes, commercial sleeves for arms
c.    Consider Hep-Lock and cover with gauze
d.   Taping, securement of IV line under gown, sleeves
e.    Keep IV bag out of visual field
f.    Consider alternative therapy: oral fluids, drugs
5.   Treatment (Interdisciplinary)
a.    Treat underlying disorder(s)
b.   Judicious, low dose use of medication if warranted for agitation
c.    Communication techniques: low voice, simple commands, reorientation
d.   Frequent reassurance and orientation
e.    Surveillance  and  observation:  Determine  whether  family  member(s) willing to stay with patient; move patient closer to nurses’ station; perform safety checks more frequently; redeploy staff to provide one-on-one observation if other measure is ineffective
6.   Attempted or actual disruption: bladder catheter
a.    Consider intermittent catheterization if appropriate
b.   Proper securement, anchoring to leg. Commercial tube holders available
B.    Interventions to Reduce Fall Risk
1.   Patient-centered interventions
a.    Supervised, progressive ambulation even in ICUs (Ref 9; 10)
b.   Physical therapist/occupational therapist (PT/OT) consultation: weakened or unsteady gait, trunk weakness, upper arm weakness
c.    Provide physical aids in hearing, vision, walking
d.   Modify clothing: skidproof slippers, slipper socks, robes no longer than ankle length
e.    Bedside commode if impaired or weakened gait
f.    Postural hypotension: behavioral recommendations such as ankle pumps, hand clenching, reviewing medications, elevating head of bed
2.   Organizational interventions (Ref 7)
a.    Examine pattern of falls on unit (e.g., time of day, day of week)
b.   Examine unit factors that can contribute to falls that can be ameliorated (e.g., report in back room versus walking rounds to improve surveillance)
c.    Restructure staff routines to increase number of available staff through- out the day
d.   Set and maintain toilet schedules
e.    Install electronic alarms for wanderers
f.    Consider bed and chair alarms (note: no to little evidence on effectiveness)
g.   Moving patient closer to nurse station
h.   Increased checks on high-risk patients
3.   Environmental interventions (Ref 11; 12)
a.    Keep bed in low, locked position
b.   Safety  features,  such  as  grab  bars,  call  bells,  bed  alarms,  are  in  good working order
c.    Ensure bedside tables and dressers are in easy reach
d.   Clear pathways of hazards
c.    Bolster cushions to assist with posture, maintain seat in chair
d.   Adequate lighting, especially bathroom at night
e.    Furniture to facilitate seating: reclining chairs (note: may be considered restraint in some instances), extended arm rests, high back
C.   Review medications using Beers Criteria for potentially inappropriate medications


Evaluation and Expected Outcomes

A.   Patient
1.   Patient will remain free of restraints
2.   Physical restraints will be used only as a last resort
B.    Nursing Staff
1.   Will be able to accurately assess patients who are at risk for use of physical restraint
2.   Will only use physical restraints when less restrictive mechanisms have been determined to be ineffective
3.   Will have an increased use of nonrestraint, safety alternatives
C.   Organization
1.   Will have a decrease in incidence and/or prevalence of restraints
2.   Will  not  have  an  increase  of  falls,  agitated  behavior,  and  patient-initiated removal of medical devices


Follow-up Monitoring of Condition

A.   Monitor restraint incidence comparing benchmark rates over time by unit
B.   Document prevalence rate of restraint use on an ongoing basis
C.   Focus education on assessment and prevention of delirium and falls
D.   Consult with interdisciplinary members to identify additional safety alternatives

Relevant Practice Guidelines

A.   American  Nurses  Association.  (2001).  Position  statement:  Reduction  of  patient
restraint  and  seclusion  in  health  care  settings.  Retrieved  from  NursingWorld
B.    Maccioli,  G.  A.,  Dorman, T.,  Brown,  B.  R.,  Mazuski,  J.  E.,  McLean,  B.  A.,
Rosenbaum,  S.  H.,  .  .  .      Society  of  Critical  Care  Medicine.  (2003).  Clini-
cal  practice  guidelines  for  the  maintenance  of  patient  physical  safety  in  the
intensive care unit: Use of restraining therapies—American College of Criti-
cal  Care  Medicine  Task  Force  2001–2002.  Critical  Care  Medicine,  31(11),

From Evidence-Based Geriatric Nursing Protocols for Best Practice, 4th Edition. © Springer Publishing Company, LLC.


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Last updated - July 2012