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Are Weighted Blankets Safe For The Elderly?

For those under stress, weighted blankets are supposed to work much like touch pressure therapy. Essentially, the weight of the blankets induces bodily pressure that may trigger the production of serotonin – a feel-good chemical – and this can help the elderly relieve the symptoms of several conditions.

Since they can be good options for seniors, we wondered are weighted blankets safe for the elderly? We found that weighted blankets are beneficial and typically safe for seniors, provided they don’t pull the blanket over their face. Frail elders should, however, use the lightest weighted blanket possible to avoid becoming trapped or injured if they can’t remove the blanket.

Read on to learn more about which conditions might be helped with a weighted blanket, the risks associated with using one, how to ensure safe use, and whether Medicare covers the cost of a weighted blanket (or if you have no time to read, we have a video about weighted blankets!):

 

What Conditions Are Weighted Blankets Good For?

As we explained in the intro, there are a handful of conditions that affect seniors for which weighted blankets can be especially useful. For instance, if your elderly parent or loved one has depression and anxiety, they should try a weighted blanket. Restless leg syndrome symptoms may be lessened through one of these blankets, as well.

Although there haven’t been many studies done on weighted blankets, there have been a few and they show these blankets can be beneficial, in some cases. For example, a study reported on by Health Med at Indiana University found that the physical signs of stress and anxiety (IE: increased blood pressure, pulse rate, etc.) in the test subjects were reduced by 63 percent after using a 30-pound weighted blanket.

If used properly, weighed blankets may benefit the elderly in the following ways:

  • Lessening the symptoms of some conditions (dementia and Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and Parkinson’s)
  • Reducing depression and anxiety
  • Increasing the quality of sleep
  • Cutting down on stress

Weighted Blankets In Dementia Care

Dementia is heartbreaking for the friends and family of a senior, as they have to watch their loved one change into someone unrecognizable. While dementia is incurable, it’s possible to alleviate some of the symptoms that come with it through the use of a weighted blanket.

One of those more common symptoms is moodiness or agitation. The senior may also experience sleep disorders and anxiety. This Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders report found that when subjects used a weighted blanket, they noted better sleep quality, faster sleep, and feeling more rested the next day. This could undo the insomnia that can be caused by the anxiety and depression associated with dementia.

Do Weighted Blankets Help With Arthritis?

What if your senior’s mind is sharp but their body isn’t? Arthritis causes the joints to become inflamed. The pain and stiffness can increase as a person gets older, making a senior’s day-to-day life very uncomfortable.

With arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, the pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion can keep the senior up at night. This begins a vicious cycle, as their pain can worsen without enough sleep. However, due to the increased pain, the senior then tosses and turns the next night, and thus the cycle continues.

A weighted blanket can have a positive impact on sleep as we noted in the paragraphs above. When a senior with arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis sleeps better, it’s possible they’ll wake up the next day with less pain and stiffness, which aids in breaking that vicious cycle.

Parkinson’s Disease – Weighted Blanket: Yes or No?

Another condition that has a role in reducing a senior’s movement, but in a totally different way, is Parkinson’s disease. This disorder of the nervous system decreases dopamine in the brain. The condition can begin with small hand tremors and evolve into balance problems, bodily stiffness, and reduced movement and speed.

As with dementia, Parkinson’s patients often experience anxiety that can keep them awake at night. Their pain and stiffness can also inhibit sleep, much like the case with those who suffer from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

As you can imagine then, a weighted blanket suits a senior with Parkinson’s quite well. Their sensory processing (the nervous system’s means of getting sensory messages and then translating them into bodily responses), may improve after sleeping under a weighted blanket. Their anxiety might decrease as well, all leading to a better night’s sleep.

Are Weighted Blankets Considered A Restraint?

A weighed blanket – as the name suggests – is supposed to be heavy. The lightest ones weigh five pounds while others might weigh upwards of 20 pounds. If your senior had 20 pounds of added weight atop their own body weight at night, would they feel restrained and even panicked?

They shouldn’t – unless the blanket is too heavy for them. A heavier blanket does not equal a bigger benefit. In other words, you shouldn’t just assume your senior needs the 20-pound blanket because it would deliver the most benefits to their health, sleep quality, and mental state.

Instead, a blanket that’s overly heavy could present challenges should your senior need to get up in the middle of the night. If it is too heavy, they might be stuck in bed. This could trigger feelings of anxiousness, thus negating all the benefits a weighted blanket is supposed to provide.

Guidelines For Weighted Blankets – How Heavy Should A Weighted Blanket Be For Adults?

it is recommended that you choose a weighted blanket size based on the body weight of the person in question. To help you figure out the correct weight for a senior’s weighted blanket, here’s an overview:

Weighted Blanket Chart For Adults

Senior’s Weight Choose Weighted Blanket Weight:
100 to 120 pounds 10 to 12 pounds
120 to 140 pounds 12 to 14 pounds
140 to 160 pounds 14 to 16 pounds
160 to 180 pounds 16 to 18 pounds
180 to 200 pounds 18 to 20 pounds

If your senior weighs more or less than what’s on the list above, there’s a trusty rule of thumb you can use. The max weight of the weighted blanket should be within 10 percent of the body weight of the senior.

Medline says that these blankets typically come in weight increments of 10, 12, 15, 17, and 20 pounds, so if you aren’t sure whether you should buy a lighter or heavier blanket for a 150 pound person (for example), experts typically recommend adding one to two pounds, but no more than that.

Also, it should be noted that it can take about 7 – 10 days to get used to sleeping under a weighted blanket, so the full benefits may not be apparent the first few times your senior uses one.

Are Weighted Blankets Harmful To Seniors?

Many people besides just the elderly rely on weighted blankets each night for their stress-busting properties, including healthy adults. Even children may like the security and feel of a weighted blanket. Children are the most at-risk group when using these blankets, especially very young kids. They could suffocate if they’re three years old or under and the blanket is improperly weighed and/or used.

Teens, adults, and even seniors should not be at risk of suffocating, however, unless they were to pull the blanket over their head or face. We always advise people to avoid covering their head and face with a blanket, for safety’s sake.

That said, according to an article from Harvard Health Publishing (Harvard Medical School),  there are “certain people who should not use a weighted blanket or should check with their doctors before doing so, including people with:

  • sleep apnea
  • certain other sleep disorders
  • respiratory problems or other chronic medical conditions.”

One issue that could afflict seniors is something we touched on earlier in this article. While weighed blankets are not used as a restraint, that doesn’t mean a senior will always feel like they have full range of motion if they sleep under one. If you get a blanket that’s too heavy for the senior, they could panic about all the weight on their chest or back, which could induce feelings of anxiety.

Also, as we mentioned before, should your senior awaken in the night for a drink of water or a bathroom trip, the blanket could prohibit some feebler seniors from getting up. If they can’t get the blanket off them, they’ll definitely feel trapped.

Additionally, even if the senior does successfully win the battle with the weighted blanket, if they have to strain and struggle to get the blanket off their body, they could end up injuring themselves.

That’s why you should always use the information above to choose the weighted blanket that goes with the weight of your senior. A properly sized weighted blanket should provide the pressure needed for better mental and physical health without being so heavy that removal is difficult.

Will Medicare Pay For A Weighted Blanket?

By now, you may have decided that a weighted blanket is worth a try. Regardless of if you or your senior is on Medicare or has private insurance, the next step is figuring out whether insurance will cover the cost of a weighted blanket or if the senior (or you) will you have to foot the bill for one.

The good news is, while it does depend on the coverage and the plan, Medicare and other insurance might pay for the blanket. Medicare.gov reports that, “Medicare Part B (the Medical Insurance portion of Medicare) covers medically necessary durable medical equipment (DME) if your doctor prescribes it for use in the home.”

However, before you just assume the weighted blanket is covered, we recommend that you get in touch with a Medicare representative to ask, “Will Medicare pay for a weighted blanket?” If the rep says it is covered, a medical professional who is enrolled with Medicare as a DME provider could write a prescription for the blanket. This might be the person’s primary care doctor, a physical therapist, or other medical person – the key is that they must be enrolled as a Medicare provider.

With prescription in hand, the senior will need to find a DME supplier who is also enrolled with Medicare. Suppliers that provide things like walkers or wheelchairs, canes, etc would also likely be able to provide a weighted blanket. But, be sure they are enrolled as a supplier with Medicare or the blanket will not be covered.

Keep in mind that the senior will still have to pay 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount and the Medicare Part B deductible will apply to the purchase.

Best Weighted Blankets For Seniors

One of the best weighted blankets for seniors is the Weighted Idea Adult Weighted Blanket (check the price online). It has great reviews and comes in several colors, weights, and sizes. It is 100 percent cotton and has a one year replacement if there is a quality issue with the blanket.

The manufacturer recommends simple spot cleaning and lying it flat to dry. They report that, “Frequent wash would damage the structure of the blanket, so we suggest use a duvet cover for the aim of easy cleaning.”

If you are concerned about the blanket’s weight or if the senior has a sleeping partner who does not want to be under a weighted blanket, there are lap blanket sizes available, too. The DH Beacon Sensory Lap Blanket (check the price online) is perfect for a lap or draping over the shoulders. At 12 inches by 36 inches, it’s too small to sleep under, but could still help with restless legs if it was draped over the person’s legs while in bed.

Conclusion

Weighted blankets can lessen anxiety and pain as well as induce better-quality sleep. For seniors with conditions like depression, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and arthritis, a weighted blanket might be a benefit.

You must size the blanket according to the weight of the user to ensure it’s not too heavy. Otherwise, the blanket can feel like a restraint.

Additionally, it is possible that private insurance or Medicare may cover the cost of a weighted blanket under durable medical equipment (DME), making this a convenient and very viable option for the senior in your life.

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