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5 Safety Tips for Bed Rails for the Elderly

Seniors often live with multiple health conditions that can increase their chances of experiencing a fall. Medications, vision loss, neurological disorders and reduced mobility can all make older adults vulnerable to falls, including from bed.

Not only can falling out of bed cause serious physical injuries, but it’s a frightening experience for the senior and their family members. This can trigger other issues such as depression and anxiety. Seniors afraid of falling out of bed may be reluctant to use their bed, preferring to sleep in a recliner chair instead.

A bed rail is one of the most common solutions for seniors at risk of a fall from bed, as well as those who need help with transfers and repositioning. These low-cost devices are widely available without a prescription and, when used correctly, can provide peace-of-mind to seniors and their caregivers.

Bed Rails Can Be Dangerous

Unfortunately, a report published by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSE) linked bed rails to a number of injuries and fatalities among seniors. The report revealed that between January 2002 and September 2012, there were 155 bed rail-related deaths among adults. About one-third of these accidental deaths occurred in the victim’s home, and rail entrapment was the leading cause of these tragic fatalities.

Since that report was published, the FDA and other safety authorities have released recommendations on reducing the risks associated with bed rail use among the elderly.

In this guide, you’ll find five simple safety tips that can help you keep your loved ones safe while using bed rails.

Tip #1: Check the CPSC Website for Recalls

Before purchasing a bed rail or using one gifted to you, check if the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website lists it.

The CPSC is the federal agency responsible for researching product hazards, publishing recalls and promoting the development of safe consumer products.

Tip #2: Consult with a Medical Expert

Although a prescription isn’t needed to purchase an adult portable bed rail, it’s a good idea to check with your loved one’s medical provider before using any assistive device. Bed rails may not be the best option for seniors at high risk of entrapment due to advanced dementia or those with certain medical conditions.

You may also want to consult with an occupational therapist who can advise you on what type of bed rail to use, as portable bed rails come in a wide range of styles.

Keep in mind to never use bed rails as restraining devices to prevent a senior from getting into or out of bed.

Tip #3: Install the Bed Rail Correctly 

Installing a portable adult bed rail usually involves lifting the mattress to secure the straps across the box spring and under the frame. This can be an awkward task that might tempt you to skip it, especially if your loved one is trying out a bed rail for the first time.

Once you’ve installed the bed rail, recheck it regularly. Verify that you tightly fastened the straps so that there are no gaps between the rail and the bed that could entrap your loved one.

Tip #4: Spend Time Helping the Senior Get Comfortable with Their Bed Rail

As with any assistive device, using a bed rail can take some getting used to. When you first install the bed rail, spend some time with your loved one to ensure they’re comfortable using the device. Check that you positioned the bed rail where they need it to be and that it remains secure when in use.

Tip #5: Be Aware of Tripping Hazards

Some bed rails for seniors include stabilizer legs that extend down to the floor. If you’ve selected this bed rail style, verify that you positioned the legs to prevent the senior from tripping. Also, secure any excess strapping well out of the way.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Shouldn’t Use a Bed Rail? 

A bed rail might not be safe for a senior with advanced Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. These conditions can make it difficult for the senior to recognize that the bed rail is an assistive device rather than a restraint, which can increase agitation and confusion.

Bed rails may also be inappropriate for seniors with medical issues that cause uncontrolled body movements, as well as those who need one-on-one assistance to transfer in and out of bed.

What Are Some Alternatives to a Bed Rail for a Senior?

Bed rails can help reduce the risk of falls from bed while serving as an assistive device during repositioning and transfers. If your loved one needs a bed rail to reduce their chances of falling from bed, the alternatives include bed bumpers, roll guards or a concave mattress. If they need something to grab on to while getting in and out of bed, you may want to consider a bed trapeze or a bed ladder.