Physical restraints in aged-care homes reported to have caused five deaths over 13-year period

Researchers are calling for a wider debate around the use of physical restraints in aged-care homes after finding they have caused five deaths over 13 years.

Key points:

  • Five people died over a 13 year period in NSW, Victoria and Queensland from 2000 to 2013

  • Deaths were caused by chocking, people unable to get enough air due to their neck being compressed

  • Researchers call for wider debate around the use of the devices in aged care homes

A study conducted by Monash University has revealed that restraints were responsible for the deaths of five people over a 13-year period in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland from 2000 to 2013.

Four out of the five people who died from the restraints had dementia.

Professor Joseph Ibrahim, head of the health, law and aging research unit at Monash University and lead researcher on the study, said that the research demonstrated "people do die from the use of physical restraint".

"The deaths that we found have all died essentially from choking, so they've just not been able to get enough air because their necks been compressed," he said.

Professor Ibrahim said he hoped that their work would lead to a conversation about how people who were approaching older age wanted to be cared for if they were affected by dementia.

"What we don't really have at the moment is a debate about is it or is it not appropriate," he said.

"Do you want to be restrained when you're 80 and have dementia, or would you rather be able to walk freely and if you fall you fall?

"We're not having those types of mature conversations and they're the situations you're more likely to end up in, rather than the conversation that we all get very caught up in around things like euthanasia, which affect very, very few people."

Professor Ibrahim said there needed to be more information available about the use of restraints in aged-care facilities.

"We think it's still a relatively uncommon practice, but I'm not aware of anywhere, that as a member of the public or as a researcher, we're able to access that information," he said.

Physical restraints 'are rarely needed'

Professor Ibrahim said restraints were sometimes used in patients with dementia to try to prevent them from having falls.

According to Alzheimer's Australia there are some instances where restraints are warranted, but they should never be regularly used.

"It's very rare indeed that physical restraints are necessary," said Graeme Samuel, the head of Alzheimer's Australia.

Mr Samuel said that the relatively small number of deaths in nursing homes over 13 years from restraints did not mean that there was not a problem.

"It's of no comfort to know that as someone who is aged, who is living with dementia, has been subjected to physical restraint of any form whatsoever," he said.

"Physical restraint is needed only in the rarest of circumstances."

The study into deaths by physical restraints in nursing homes has been published in the leading UK journal in geriatric medicine, Age and Ageing.


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