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Restraint as a Last Resort

To Protect Medical Devices

​​We all want safe, compassionate care for those we care about, and those we care for. Sometimes safety requires limiting a person’s activity or behaviour. Restraining a person is a last resort in an emergency or when other things haven’t worked. Many healthcare providers, including Alberta Health Services (AHS), have a Restraint as a Last Resort policy.

It’s important to protect life-saving medical devices, especially when a person is confused or agitated. It’s also important to help the person recover as quickly as possible, so the devices are no longer needed. Examples of restraints used to protect medical devices include soft wrist restraints, soft padded mitts on hands, and medicines.

Risks of wrist restraints:

  • feeling distress from being “tied down”
  • more agitation and pulling at lines and tubes
  • emotional trauma
  • need to use more medicines
  • delirium

Risks of medicines used as restraints:

  • memory loss
  • may have a lasting impact on the brain
  • longer recovery times
  • delirium

What can be done to use restraint as a last resort?

  • take out medical lines and tubes as soon as possible
  • use the least amount of medicine for the shortest time
  • have someone (family or care partner) stay with the person if they are showing signs of discomfort or distress
  • support normal sleeping and waking patterns
  • reassure the person
  • treat pain
  • disguise or cover up the tubing

How Can Families and Care Partners Help?

  • occupy the person with simple activities
  • sit with the person and hold their hand
  • reassure the person, talk about simple things: what day or season it is, hobbies

Helpful conversations for staff, family, and care partners

  • Has there been a history of memory loss, or previous confusion after any surgery? People with dementia are at higher risk of delirium (sudden onset of confusion).
  • Are care partners available to sit with the person if needed, until the confusion clears?

Current as of: May 1, 2018

Author: Seniors Health Strategic Clinical Network, Alberta Health Services