Falling is a very serious concern for seniors of any age. As a person ages, the bones become more brittle, putting the person at risk for many fractures. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 250,000 seniors break a hip every year, and because thousands of seniors die each year from the complications of a broken hip, doing whatever is necessary to prevent falls from occurring is important.
One way that seniors commonly fall is out of bed; whether they are disoriented and get up too fast, or they roll over too far off the bed while sleeping, a fall out of bed entails all of the risks of any fall at an advanced age. One way to reduce the risk of falling out of bed is with a properly fitted bed rail.
Bed rails offer more than protection from falls
Bed rails are typically thought of as a way to keep toddlers in their beds without falling out, but they serve many other purposes when used for seniors. Bed rails can help elderly persons get into and out of bed on their own; they can help elderly persons comfortably position themselves in bed; and obviously, they can stop them from falling out of bed. The type and number of bed rails needed depend on the type of bed the elderly person sleeps on and whether or not the person sleeps alone. For example, a person who sleeps alone should have a bed rail on each side of the bed, unless the bed butts up to the wall, where there is no risk of falling.
Understanding a loved one’s needs
Bed rails are not always the right decision for every elderly patient, though. Some patients, such as those with dementia, might get upset at the sight of the rails, forgetting why they are there. The agitated person might try to climb over the rail or even get through one, putting him or her at risk for falls or even strangulation. It is important to have a loved one’s needs assessed before making any decisions regarding bed rails.
Taking the appropriate precautions
Because of the risk of strangulation and/or climbing can be high for some elderly patients, it is important to have a loved one evaluated for the risk of these issues. If there is a high risk, the following precautions can be taken to help keep the elderly person safe:
- Keep one side of the bed rail low enough so that there are no issues with climbing or any feelings of being trapped. The foot rail is usually the easiest to keep lowered and still keep a loved one safe.
- Make sure that the mattress and bed rail fit well together so that there is no risk of the elderly person getting caught between the mattress and the bed rail, putting him or her at risk for suffocation.
With these precautions and a bed rail that fits the person’s needs, a bed rail can be a very simple way to keep the elderly comfortable and safe in their own beds.
Talking to your loved one about a bed rail
It can be difficult to bring up many topics with an elderly loved one, including the topic of bed rails. Because bed rails have been the subject of many debates, some people mistakenly look at them as restraining devices rather than protection. A multitude of studies have been done on bed rails and their effectiveness, however, including one published in the Oxford Journals, which shows that injuries in hospital settings were much lower when bed rails were used appropriately, helping to reduce the risk of not only hip injuries but head injuries as well. If an elderly loved one balks at the idea of a bed rail, it is important for family members to talk to him or her about the dangers of not using one, emphasizing that those who care about the elderly person want him or her to be safe while getting a good night’s rest. Seniors who are anxious about falling out of bed are less likely to get adequate sleep, which can lead to health issues.
Bed rails are just one of the options to help keep seniors safe at night, but they are one of the most effective for those who live on their own. If an elderly person wants to remain independent, talk to him or her about the importance of bed rails and safety. A broken hip or serious head injury will end in the hospital with possible complications that will compromise independence over the long term and may even be life-threatening. A bed rail may prevent such injuries from occurring.
Centers for Disease Control. Hip Fractures Among Older Adults. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/adulthipfx.html. Retrieved on July 4, 2016.
Healey, F., Oliver, D., Milne, A., Connelly, J. B. (2008). The Effect of Bed Rails on Falls and Injury: A Systematic Review of Clinical Studies. Oxford Journals, Medicine & Health, Age and Ageing, 37(4): 368-378. Available at http://ageing.oxfordjournals.org/content/37/4/368.full. Retrieved on July 8, 2016.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A Guide to Bed Safety Bed Rails in Hospitals, Nursing Homes, and Home Health Care: The Facts. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/GeneralHospitalDevicesandSupplies/HospitalBeds/ucm123676.htm. Accessed on July 4, 2016.