Are Physical Restraints in Nursing Homes a Form of Elder Abuse in California?

Are Physical Restraints in Nursing Homes a Form of Elder Abuse in California?


From the time we are babies through childhood, adulthood, and on into our senior years, we do not want to be physically restrained. Outside of situations such as involuntary physical movements and the need for temporary restraints to allow healing, such as in the case of a cast for a broken bone, a restraint by its very definition implies the overcoming of a person’s will to have freedom of movement. Even our federal constitution guarantees us freedom from bodily restraint.

Yet, in all too many cases, nursing homes impose physical restraints on elderly and adult dependent patients without proper cause, causing significant emotional and physical injuries for residents. In many situations, the use of a physical restraint on a nursing home patient is due to improper staffing, resources, or training, and in some cases is intentional and vindictive abuse inflicted by staff members.

The use of physical restraints can in fact qualify as a form of elder abuse in California, for which an affected victim can bring an action against the nursing home and other liable parties for financial recovery.

What Constitutes a Physical Restraint in a Nursing Home?

A physical restraint can be any type of device or practice which restricts the ability of a person to move freely, keeping in mind that many elderly and/or dependent nursing home residents already have limited physical functions with which to overcome restraints.

While the concept of a restraint may immediately bring to mind bands, belts, and ties that keep a person’s arms, legs, and waist restrained – and those certainly are physical restraints – there are many other types of physical restraints used in nursing homes. Mitts put on a patient’s hands would qualify, as would a bed rail in many cases. Furthermore, placing a person’s wheelchair where they cannot move could qualify, as would any other situation where a person of frail physical ability could not move (i.e. tightly wrapping a person in bedsheets or placing a tray or table where they cannot move).

Assessing Whether a Physical Restraint is Elder Abuse

Of course, some acts of physical restraint are part of treating elderly and dependent resident who, in most cases, can no longer fully take care of themselves, but it is important to be cognizant of when a physical restraint does cross the line into elder abuse.

The key questions to ask a staff member and/or medical caregiver are whether a physical restraint is necessary for a person’s care, and why it is indeed necessary. The word “necessary” implies that no other options are available, so you might ask whether there are any other alternative approaches to providing care which do not restrict freedom of movement, such as pads, pillows, alternative treatments, or increased supervision.

Restraints have a wide range of damaging effects for elderly and dependent residents, including the physical side effects of not being able to move as well as the emotionally damaging effects of restraint, which can often work in tandem to severely impact a resident’s well-being for the worse.

If you believe that a family member or other individual is suffering abuse due to unnecessary physical restraints in a nursing home, consider speaking to an elder abuse attorney to determine whether you may have options for legal action.  

Contact the Southern California Elder Abuse Attorneys at Johnson Moore Today

At Johnson Moore, we know full well that elder abuse victims and their families often face stonewalling, denial, and even intimidation when they try to take action against elder abuse. Our attorneys are compassionate and determined defenders of the elderly, and we will take the time to fully understand your concerns and assess what steps we can take on your behalf. Even if you are unsure of whether you have a valid claim, we look forward to hearing from you to help you explore your options for obtaining the justice you deserve. Contact Johnson Moore today to schedule a free consultation.

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