While bed rails are necessary for some seniors, they’re not always safe. Unnecessary and irresponsible use of bed rails can cause serious injury and even death in elderly patients. Thousands of injuries from bed rails have been reported in the United States, ranging from cuts to broken bones. Most elderly patients don’t need a bed rail to sleep safely. For those who do, bed rails are safe so long as they’re installed and used correctly.
What Are the Risks of Bed Rails?
The largest risk is that a senior may become trapped either in the bars of the bed rail or between the rail and the mattress. People trapped in this way have been seriously injured and even suffocated.
Elders with Alzheimer’s, dementia and similar conditions are at higher risk. They can become confused and attempt to climb over the rail, increasing the risk of a fall.
Seniors have also fallen and died because the bed rail they needed wasn’t properly raised. While some of these injuries have resulted from properly used bed rails, the majority of serious injuries came from bed rails that were being misused.
How Should Bed Rails Be Used?
It’s important that bed rails be properly fitted to both the bed and the person who will be using them. There should be no gaps between the mattress and the edge of the bed rail. Gaps between bars shouldn’t be large enough for the person using them to fit their arm or head inside. The bed rail must be secure to the frame of the bed, and the person installing it should take care to ensure all pieces of the bed rail are present and fully in place. Seniors should be able to leave their bed safely even with the bed rail up. In some states, it’s illegal to use a bed rail that prevents a senior from freely leaving their bed.
The other element of safe bed rail usage is proper supervision and support. Many deaths and injuries have been prevented because a caregiver was available to intervene or fix a damaged bed rail. Bed rails need to be kept in good condition. They should be firmly in the upright position when in use and put down when not needed.