Falls are one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in people over the age of 65. Due to the delicate nature of bone and other body parts at this stage of life, even something as simple as a fall out of bed can lead to devastating conditions such as broken hips, hematoma, and even traumatic brain injuries. As a result, many nursing homes use bed rails to help keep elderly and immobilized patients in bed. But are bed rails actually as safe as they seem? Here’s everything you need to know.

The Benefits of Bed Rails

Like any other medical device or procedure, the use of bed rails comes with both benefits and risks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration outlines the following as some of the biggest benefits of using a rail:

  • Provides assistance with turning or repositioning, which can reduce the risk of bedsores.
  • Helps unsteady patients get themselves in or out of bed by providing support.
  • Provides both patients and families with a sense of security and comfort.
  • Reduces risk of falls, especially during sleep or in transport.
  • Provides access to bed controls and available space for personal items.

The Possible Risks of Bed Rails

At the same time, bed rails are not without their risks, which are worth considering. Some of the most serious potential side effects of bed rails, especially for incapacitated patients, include:

  • When a person entangles him or herself in the rails or between the rails and mattress, strangling or suffocation may result.
  • A patient climbing over a rail can lead to serious injury.
  • Cuts and bruises from brushing against the rails.
  • Patient feelings of isolation or incompetence.
  • May prevent patients with limited mobility from getting out of bed and maintaining sense of independence.
  • May induce feelings of anxiety or agitation, especially when bed rails are a method of restraint.

Best Practices for Bed Rails

Unfortunately, the FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission have received several reports over the years of bed rails contributing to serious injury, coma, and death. Many of these reports were the result of entrapment in the bed rails themselves. When deciding whether to use bed rails, it’s important to consider both the pros and cons of use. Appropriate considerations for use include:

  • The establishment of a safe sleeping environment for the patient
  • The patient’s medical needs
  • Comfort
  • The patient’s level of mobility and desire for independence

People who want a safe sleeping environment for their loved ones should fully understand the risks and the benefits associated with using bed rails. They should also ensure all bed rails have proper installation and recognize that certain populations should not use bed rails.

For example, adult bed rails should not be a form of adult restraint. This is not only demoralizing and restricts independence, but it’s also indicative of elder abuse and may prompt the need for a West Virginia nursing home abuse attorney. Bed rails, when used appropriately, are intended to facilitate the mobility of patients, particularly those who need assistance getting in and out of bed to complete their daily activities.

Since death and injury can and have occurred while using portable bed rails, it’s important to know when their use may be inappropriate. For example, people with extreme physical limitations and severe altered mental status may not benefit from the use of bed rails – in fact, in these cases the devices could prove dangerous.

The appropriateness of bed rail use varies from patient to patient. In some cases, they can be both useful and assistive. In others, they can present an unnecessary danger to the user. Families and caregivers must carefully weigh the options before deciding if bed rails are appropriate for their loved ones and patients.