Given that falls are the largest cause of injuries among seniors in the United States, seniors falling out of bed is a major concern in geriatrics and caregiving. Depending on the height of the bed, a senior may become severely injured by falling out of bed. However, this issue can be difficult to pinpoint and prevent. Seniors may fall out of bed at night, and they will likely be disoriented and fatigued when the fall occurs. As such, a senior falling out of bed requires careful attention and creative solutions.
Beyond just physical injury, the fear of falling out of bed can have a ripple effect of negative consequences for an older adult, writes Terry Cralle, registered nurse and clinical sleep educator:
“This can be pretty frustrating, for both the elderly and their family. Frequent falling and injuries can even lead to the elderly feeling isolated, depressed, and refusing to get out of bed.”
Below, we’ll outline the causes and risk factors associated with seniors falling out of bed. Then, we’ll provide tangible solutions to help keep your elderly patient or loved one safe from falls.
Causes of seniors falling out of bed
Seniors may fall out of bed for a wide range of reasons. Consider that seniors may either fall out of bed while they’re asleep, usually from a rolling motion, or seniors may fall while trying to get up out of bed. Both of these scenarios pose a significant risk to seniors’ health and wellbeing.
Underlying causes for seniors falling out of bed include:
- REM behavior disorder, which can cause falling out of bed for adults of all ages
- A recent traumatic medical event that triggered a change of mobility, such as a stroke or heart attack
- Recovery from a major surgery, which may also cause a change in mobility
- A change of medication, either in the time of day the medication is taken or a change of medication itself
- A change in the sleeping environment, such as changes to furniture, lighting, or even which side of the bed the senior sleeps on. Other changes in the sleeping environment may include:
- A new bed that’s higher or lower from the floor
- Different sheets or sleeping clothing that are more slippery than those to which the senior is accustomed
- Incontinence, which can cause the need to rush to the bathroom and move more recklessly than usual
- Sundowners in seniors with dementia, a condition that leads to heightened confusion and fatigue in the evening
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, the leading cause of dizziness in seniors and a major cause of falls
- Vision problems and worsening eyesight
Falling risks for seniors
Debilitating injuries can result from falls in the elderly, which means falling is a risk not only to older adults’ health and well-being but also to their independence. With adults over 60 suffering the greatest number of fatal falls, the risk is serious and one that requires constant vigilance on the part of the caregiver. Even if not fatal, a serious fall could threaten a senior’s ability to be self-sufficient, therefore shortening the amount of time they’re able to age in place or avoid relocation.
Falling poses a large risk for bone fractures in the elderly. Hip fractures are one of the most common injuries that result from falling. Unfortunately, fractures can have far-reaching implications for the older population. Reduced mobility and ability to complete day-to-day tasks unassisted may stem from a fracture, and these results are unlikely to be reversed in an elderly individual.
In seniors, falls are also the most common root of traumatic brain injuries or TBI. Head injuries can lead to TBI and are especially concerning if a senior is taking blood thinners.
Immediate medical attention should follow serious falls in the elderly, especially if a head injury is suspected.
How to prevent injury in seniors falling out of bed
There are steps that seniors, caregivers, and loved ones can take to prevent seniors from falling out of bed, as well as to reduce injury severity in the case of a fall. These strategies are:
- Install a gentle barrier to keep the senior from leaving bed unassisted. One simple DIY method for making a barrier is to use a pool noodle around the edge of the bed, ideally within a mattress pad or fitted sheet. The noodle is softer and less jarring than bed rails but serves the same purpose: to reinforce the end of the bed and prevent falls.
- If the senior needs a more stable and substantial barrier to keep them in bed, bed rails may be the right choice for you. You should always select sturdy bed rails and ensure that they’re installed as securely as possible. Bed rails may double as a tool that seniors can use to brace themselves when getting up from and down to bed.
- Placing a fall mat directly next to the bed will soften any potential falls to reduce injury. A fall mat is an easy and effective solution, so you may choose to combine it with other fall prevention tactics. Consider that seniors may struggle to stand up from a fall mat, depending on their condition and physical ability, so this option may only work for a limited period of time.
- Invest in a different bed design that’s closer to the floor, such as a platform bed. A bed that’s closer to the ground will significantly lower the injury risk factor if the senior does end up falling. This solution may work best when combined with other safety strategies, such as a barrier and fall mat.
- Certain beds are designed for seniors or those with limited mobility and can reduce the risk of falls. You may find a hospital bed to be an effective option for seniors struggling with mobility, given that the height may be adjusted and guard rails are built-in. A Posey bed is a type of hospital bed that’s enclosed on all sides, making it physically impossible for the senior to fall. While this design is exceptionally safe, it may also be restrictive or uncomfortable for some seniors.
- Consult your healthcare provider to help determine the cause of the falls. If the issue is treatable, a treatment strategy may significantly lessen a senior’s chance for falling. For example, a doctor may treat a vision problem, change a medication, or make suggestions to improve the senior’s sleeping environment.
Falling out of bed is a significant risk as people age and could lead to injury. While determining the cause of the falls is key in developing a prevention strategy, beds that are close to the ground, fall pads, and bed barriers are universal solutions to try. Don’t wait until an injury has occurred to address the risk of a senior falling out of bed. Implementing safety strategies now will help the senior maintain their health for as long as possible.
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