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7 Top Solutions to Prevent Elderly Bed Falls

Falls are a leading cause of injury among the elderly, and the bedroom, a place of rest and comfort, can sometimes become a hazard.

As our loved ones age, their risk of falling out of bed increases due to various factors, from medical conditions to simple changes in sleep patterns.

It’s a concern that many caregivers and family members share, often leading to sleepless nights filled with worry.

Practical Tips for Caregivers to Prevent Bed Falls

While products play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of our elderly loved ones, there are also everyday measures that caregivers can adopt to further minimize the risk of falls.

Here are some practical tips that can make a significant difference:

  1. Rearrange Bedroom Furniture: Ensure that the path from the bed to the bathroom is clear of obstacles. Removing clutter and positioning furniture in a way that provides support, like placing a sturdy chair or table near the bed, can be helpful.
  2. Nightlights: A well-lit path can prevent tripping hazards. Install motion-activated nightlights in the bedroom and along the path to the bathroom. This ensures that the elderly can see clearly if they need to get up during the night.
  3. Non-Slip Mats: Place non-slip mats on both sides of the bed. This provides traction when getting in and out of bed, reducing the risk of slips.
  4. Establish a Bedtime Routine: Consistency can be comforting. Establish a regular bedtime routine that includes activities like reading or listening to calming music. This can help the elderly settle into sleep more easily and reduce the chances of restless movement that might lead to falls.
  5. Regularly Check Medications: Some medications can cause dizziness or drowsiness. Regularly review prescriptions with a healthcare professional to ensure they aren’t increasing the risk of falls.
  6. Bed Height: Ensure that the bed height is appropriate. The elderly person’s feet should touch the ground comfortably when sitting on the edge of the bed. If the bed is too high, consider using a step stool with a non-slip surface.
  7. Encourage Use of Assistive Devices: If your loved one uses a cane or walker, keep it within arm’s reach of the bed. This ensures they have the support they need when they get up.
  8. Open Communication: Encourage open communication. Let your loved one know that they should call out or use a bell if they need assistance during the night. This can prevent them from attempting to get out of bed unaided when they’re feeling unsteady.

By incorporating these practical tips into daily routines, caregivers can create a safer environment and provide peace of mind for both themselves and their elderly loved ones.

Read about why older adults fall out of bed.

7 Products To Help Seniors From Falling Out Of Bed

Here are 7 products that can greatly help to keep older adults safely in bed.

ProductProsCons
Bed RailsEasy to install and useMay not be suitable for some older people with dementia / Alzheimer’s
Low BedsA simple and inexpensive solutionIs often a very firm feel to the mattress
Posey BedsNot suitable for elderly patients with claustrophobiaMost suitable for seniors with severe dementia / Alzheimer’s
Floor Fall MatsCushions a possible fall from the bedDifficult to walk on when standing up from the bed
Wedges, Rolls, BolstersSuitable for anyone who is against use the rails on their bedMay not work for older adults with severe dementia / Alzheimer’s
Pool NoodlesAn inexpensive solution to replace Bed RollsMay not work with larger sized persons
Bed AlarmsA great way to monitor if your senior loved one gets off the bedDoes not “prevent” falls – only “alerts” the caregiver of movement off the bed

As an Occupational Therapist, I used to work with Physical Therapists on a fall risk assessment of our patients to determine the level of cognitive and physical abilities the patient was able to perform.

I also assessed the environment (their bedroom) to see what would be needed to make falling out of bed as preventable as possible.

For anyone who is dealing with the problem of an elderly person falling out of bed while sleeping or while they are attempting to get up, know that there are some preventative measures you can take to protect and try to stop your geriatric loved one(s) from these type of falls.

What you may end up using will depend on the physical deficit(s) and cognitive impairment(s) they are dealing with.

1. Bed Rails For Seniors

ALERT – Read about a recall on Drive DeVilbiss Healthcare adult portable bed rails

Bed rails are usually what most people immediately think of when it comes to protection from falling out of bed.

And they are a very good option, but again, not for everyone.

hospital bed

When I was working in rehabilitation facilities and hospitals as an Occupational Therapist, I had several patients who injured themselves as they tried to get out of the bed.

They tried sliding down to the end of the bed, or tried to climb over the bed rail or got their arm or leg caught in the bed rail.

But, having said that – if you feel it’s an option for your parent, then let me give you some information on the different types of bed rails available.

Transfer Bed Rails (aka Assist Bed Rails)

bed safety rail

Transfer bed rails are the smallest and least intrusive type of rails.

Their main purpose is really to make transferring into and out of bed easier for both the elderly person and the caregiver.

They work best with seniors who are cognitively aware of their environment and are the least likely to fall out of bed.

My mom-in-law used this transfer bed rail that we purchased from Amazon to help her in and out of bed.

She was very independent, lived alone until she was 100 and was cognitively intact. But, we still worried about her falling from the bed. It worked very well for her.

Standard Bed Safety Rails

The standard bed rails that most people think of are longer but they don’t fit the entire length of the bed. Most hospital beds come equipped with these type of rails.

But you don’t necessarily have to get a hospital bed, you can add this type of safety rail to your existing bed.

Full Length Side Rails

A third type of bed rail is the full length version which again, you can install onto a standard bed.

Most of them, like this one from 4MDMedical.com mounts to the fabric spring of the bed and is secured with two spring-loaded cross bars.

Again, because are constructed with bars, be aware that if your parent is able to understand that they are not to attempt getting out of the bed while this safety rail is up.

You don’t want them getting caught between the bars and injuring themselves.

Grab Bars Can Be Considered

If the bed is situated in such a way that a grab bar may be used then you can certainly consider this type of equipment vs. a bed rail.

Both of these might work better for your situation.

2. Platform or Low Beds

High beds are a safety concern. This qualitative study used pre-existing nurse interview data and confirmed nurses’ awareness of the importance of keeping patient beds in the lowest position. Lowering the bed helps promote patient safety and prevent falls.

National Center for Biotechnology Information

Best Bed Height For Seniors

The general rule of thumb to the best bed height is 20 – 23 inches from the floor to the top of the mattress.

BUT the truth is, that these recommendations are based on wheelchair heights, not necessarily that of older adults.

For this reason I believe that there is no “best bed height for seniors.” Instead, what I say is that the height of the bed is relative to the person who is using that bed.

And note that this changes as the person gets older.

Lowering Your Current Bed

Depending on the type of bed you have, you may be able to lower the height of your current bed. Here are some tips about that.

  • Remove caster wheels if you have them.
  • Cut the feet of your bed to shorten the legs.
  • Lower the metal frame of your bed.
  • Substitute your boxspring for a low profile one.
  • Or remove the boxspring entirely and use a bunkie board.
  • Replace the frame of your bed entirely.

What Is A Bunkie Board?

A bunkie board is a piece of flat wood made of either plywood or particleboard. It’s 1 to 3 inches thick and is considered to be more durable and stronger than just plywood alone.

It’s meant to be placed under a mattress to provide extra support.

Bunkie boards are commonly used in bunk beds and daybeds to prevent the mattress from sagging and to keep it level with the bed frame.

They are also often used in trundle beds and platform beds to create a firm, level surface for the mattress. Bunkie boards can be placed on top of a box spring or directly on the bed frame.

Bunkie boards are available in a variety of sizes to fit any type of bed. They are typically 2-3 inches thick and covered in fabric.

Some bunkie boards come with straps or handles for easy transport.

They are especially beneficial for people who suffer from back pain or other health conditions that require a firm, level sleeping surface.

Bunkie boards can also be used to extend the life of your mattress by preventing it from sagging over time.

If you are considering purchasing a bunkie board, be sure to measure your bed frame and mattress before making a purchase.

Pros And Cons Of Platform Beds For Seniors

The benefit of a platform or a low bed is that if a fall occurs, it’s not a far distance to the ground which minimizes injury.

You can also add a bedside fall mat on the floor beside the bed for extra precaution.

Another benefit is that they don’t require a box spring giving you a savings if you have to replace the mattress.

The downside of using these types of beds is that because the mattress sits on slats, it tends to be a very firm type of support.

If your loved one sleeps on their side, it may be uncomfortable.

A solution for this might be to add a 2 or 3 inch thick mattress topper under the mattress. That’s what I did for one of my home bound patients that I treated and it worked very well.

Another issue with low beds is that depending on the height of your loved one, it may be difficult for them to get up out of bed (it may also be difficult for you to get them out of bed).

So, that’s definitely something to consider. (For more on this topic check out our article on How To Safely Help An Elderly Person Get Out Of Bed)

But overall, lowering the height of the bed is an excellent solution for anyone who is a fall risk.

One other note here about beds. I would recommend to position the bed so that one side of the bed is up against the wall.

This will create a barrier on one side.

About Pivot Beds

Another Option are Pivot Turning Beds – which mechanically turns and bends the mattress making it easier to get in and out of bed.

…the goal is to move them into a sitting-on-the-edge-of-the-bed position using a remote control mechanism. This makes it possible for a person lying in the bed to move it into a sitting position that can help them safely slide off the bed.

Myslumberyard.com

3. Posey Beds

A solution that works for some (not for all) are Posey Beds.

These beds are designed specifically for people who are at a very high risk of serious injury from falling out of bed.

This usually means anyone who suffers from severe dementia usually coupled with REM Behavior Disorder or other similar diagnosis which causes them to kick, punch and thrash about in their sleep (which of course cause cause them to fall out of bed).

A Posey Bed is most often used in hospitals, senior living facilities and nursing homes.

It is specifically designed to reduce the risk of unassisted bed exits and patient falls, prevent patients getting trapped in side rails or between the mattress and side rails, and provide a generally more controlled patient environment.

4mdmedical.com

Not all seniors would be comfortable in a Posey Bed – if they are claustrophobic in any way they may have a difficult time laying down in something that has 4 sides and a top.

Of course, the screened areas can be zipped off, leaving it more open.

It’s a decision that you will have to make with your doctor and any other caregivers working with your elderly loved one(s).

4. Floor Fall Mats

If you can’t invest in a low bed and your senior parent will be using a standard height bed then using a twin size mattress or floor fall mat on the side of the bed is a must.

This will help to cushion the fall and hopefully prevent injury or at least minimize it.

If your senior loved one gets up in the middle of the night for whatever reason a mattress may not be a viable option because stepping on that type of surface may cause them to fall.

Note: IF the elderly person DOES tend to get up often during the night – and you want to make that task safer for them – I would recommend the Smart Caregiver® Floor Mat!

It’s a flat mat that can be placed on the floor, by the bed.

It plugs into an outlet and when stepped on, it can turn on the light in the room AND can notify you (the caregiver) that your elderly loved one has gotten up.

Of course, if they fall onto the mat – it will notify you as well.

Of course, you can also use a thick mattress topper here as well (they can all be cut to size) but again, it may be difficult for your elderly loved one to stand on so you will have to judge which option would work best for you.

And keep in mind, that as your senior loved one ages, their condition will likely only worsen. So, they may be able to stand on a twin mattress today, but next month, perhaps not.

A Stander Security Pole placed by bedside may also help to make it easier and safer for your senior loved one to steady themselves as they get up from the bed.

This acts as a grab bar of sorts.

Note: I strongly recommend for anyone aging in place to remove throw rugs throughout the house.

I understand that you may want to keep one in the bathroom and there are certain types that I would recommend for that situation but if there is a throw rug by the bedside – please remove it.

You can read more about why throw rugs are dangerous for seniors by clicking here.

5. Bedside Wedges, Rolls and Bolsters

If you are a parent, you may be familiar with the use of bedside rolls. Some parents use them for their children when they first transition from a crib to a standard bed.

The same concept can help your elderly loved one from falling out of bed. For beds without rails, these products are usually fastened to the mattress and/or the bed frame.

There are a variety of different types of wedges, rolls and bolsters that you can use and what you choose will depend on the needs of your parent.

Wedge pillows are great for supporting a senior’s body, as well as for keeping them from falling out of the bed.

They are usually triangle-shaped, although you can find rectangular wedges that are used for supporting and elevating the knees.

Another very interesting product is a nylon Mattress Cover that has built in wedges.

The only downside that I can see with this product would be that it might be difficult to get someone in and out of the bed.

It would just depend on that particular person – but I love the idea that the wedges are built in – and it’s very affordable.

6. Pool Noodles

I remember a patient who was a very sweet, elderly woman. She was maybe 5 feet tall and weighed about 90 lbs.

She was quite frail and had already fallen out of her bed once.

Her family didn’t have much money but I knew that she needed something to protect her from rolling off the bed.

That’s when I recommended Pool Noodles.

They are inexpensive, they come in a variety of widths and can be cut or taped together to fit any size or configuration you need.

Although I do recommend the Jumbo Pool Noodles – you can determine what size would fit best for your senior loved one.

The way we used these pool noodles with is as follows:

  1. You can use a strong wide and long ribbon and a strong tape to connect the pool noodles together but still keep them on the sides of the bed.
  2. You can further fasten them either to the sides of the bed with more ribbons and tape or wrap the ribbons all the way under the mattress.
  3. Then place the fitted sheet over the noodles

The precaution I would give you is that if the noodles are not large enough to keep your senior loved one in the bed then you must use a wedge or bolster meant for this purpose.

I would only recommend using the pool noodle idea if the older adult you are caring for is cognitively aware enough to understand that these are meant to keep them safe and to remind them not to get out of bed without assistance.

7. Bed Alarms

When I was practicing Occupational Therapy, bed alarms were something that only some hospitals had.

But today, you can purchase them for your own home and I think that is just amazing.

Bed alarms are inexpensive and a fantastic way for you to “monitor” your senior loved one.

One that we recommend is the bed alarm made by Smart Caregiver. It’s wireless and cord free making it as safe as possible (no cords to get tangled in).

The bed alarm is a pad that is placed on top of the mattress, under the fitted sheets. It is placed directly under the shoulder blades of the person laying on the bed.

Once the person in the bed starts to get up, the pad sets off the alarm.

Since these bed alarms do not come with 2 alarms (one in their room and one for your room) I would recommend to use a baby monitor as well so that you can hear the bed alarm go off.

This would work well especially if your bedroom is on a separate floor.

You may have to try several options before you find the one or combination that works for you.

And please be aware that as your loved one ages, you may have to change your “formula”.

  1. If your senior suffers from dementia or Alzheimers he/she may have a difficult time remembering any “safety rules” you try to implement. They may also be unable to comprehend what you are trying to tell them. In this case – it would be safer to lower their bed.
  2. If you cannot lower the bed, I would recommend to place a twin size mattress on the side of the bed to cushion a possible fall. There are mats available just for this purpose if you wish to purchase any of them.
  3. Another bed option that may be viable is a Posey Bed. More about these beds below.
  4. You can add bed rails to any kind of bed as well.
  5. Bedside wedges, rolls and bolsters are another solution that may be useful.
  6. Some caregivers have had success using pool noodles on either side of the bed.
  7. Bed alarms are another tool that you can use. This will alert you if your senior loved one attempts to get out of bed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Bed Rails Prevent Falls?

It depends on the cognitive status of the person in the bed. If they are unable to comprehend how to use them safely, then the bed rails may end up causing more harm than good. If the person is cognitively intact but they are weak, then bed rails may help prevent them from falling out of bed.

Where Can I Get Free Medical Equipment?

Medicare will cover a hospital bed but not much else. There are other options, though. You can go to Eldercare.act.gov and look for help from your regional Agency on Aging. Another option is thrift stores – after my mother passed away, we donated many of her medical care items to Goodwill.

Does Medicare Pay For Hospital Beds?

Absolutely, Medicare does pay for hospital beds, but as I stated above, they only cover that piece of equipment if your doctors and the DME suppliers are enrolled in the Medicare program.

Are Bed Rails Covered By Medicare?

Medicare covers bed rails when they come with a hospital bed. But be aware that “Medicare will only cover your DME if your doctors and DME suppliers are enrolled in Medicare. Doctors and suppliers have to meet strict standards to enroll and stay enrolled in Medicare. If your doctors or suppliers aren’t enrolled, Medicare won’t pay the claims submitted by them.” (Medicare.gov) According to the list of durable medical equipment that Medicare.gov lists, bed rails are NOT covered by them.

How To Help An Elderly Person Get Out Of Bed?

You begin by log rolling the person to the edge of the bed. Using a handrail of some sort helps very much. Move the legs off the bed and then by placing your hand under their shoulder, help them to sit up. Talk them through the steps and that gives them a chance to help you so you don’t get injured. Read our excellent article on this for more detailed instructions.

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