Nursing home residents' rights: Freedom from restraints

Kentucky nursing home residents may have trouble controlling their own movements, and this may be one of the reasons that their families entrusted their care to a skilled nursing facility. However, Medicare.gov notes that with some exceptions, the law prevents nursing home staff from using physical restraints or medication to keep a person from movement or access to his or her own body. Before any restraint can be used, it must be determined as absolutely necessary for the resident's own safety or that of others.

According to the national campaign, Advancing Excellence in America's Nursing Homes, research has shown that in most cases, restraints are not necessary. For example, in the past, it was common to restrain a resident to a wheelchair if they showed signs of agitation or restlessness that could lead to aggressive behavior. However, tying someone to a chair is often not the only way to deal with these types of circumstances. Nursing staff may be able to calm the resident through interventions such as conversation, activities, a snack or some type of distraction. When a method is particularly helpful for a resident, staff may include that in the care plan for future reference.

Not only do restraints violate a person's right to self-autonomy, they also contribute to serious health problems in most cases. For example, a resident who is restrained may develop issues such as the following:

  • Weak muscles and bones
  • Poor circulation
  • Bed sores
  • Infections
  • Incontinence

When a resident must be restrained to prevent falls, self-harm or risk of harm to others, staff should take steps to prevent the development of these and other health problems.

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