BACKGROUND: Use of physical restraints has undesirable sequelae. As they weigh the risks and benefits of protocols for reducing the use of restraints, staff members in intensive care units, where restraints are most used in hospitals, need to know how well elderly patients remember being restrained and how patients perceive the use of restraints. OBJECTIVES: To estimate the proportion of patients who remember being restrained, describe the experience from the patients' perspectives, and describe any distress caused by use of restraints within the overall experience of being in the intensive care unit. METHODS: Transcripts of semistructured, audiotaped interviews of patients who had been in the medical or surgical intensive care unit in any of 3 eastern and midwestern medical centers were analyzed by question and for overall themes. RESULTS: Six patients (40%) remembered some aspect of being restrained but did not report great distress. Patients accepted restraints as needed because of the lack of alternatives. Patients reported remembering that they should not perform certain behaviors but being unable to stop themselves. Patients cited hallucinations and intubation as major stressors in the intensive care unit. Patients' continuing health problems after discharge from the intensive care unit severely limited recruitment of subjects. CONCLUSIONS: Patients do not remember great distress specifically related to the use of restraints, but the overall situation leading to use of restraints is disturbing if remembered. The discovery of methods to reduce the distress of intubation and hallucinations could decrease use of restraints.

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