Are bed rails safe for the elderly? Alternatives to consider blog post cover

Are Bed Rails Safe For the Elderly: Alternatives To Consider

Key Takeaways

As we navigate the complexities of senior care, the safety of our loved ones is paramount. A common question that arises in this context is: Are bed rails safe for the elderly? Understanding the implications of using bed rails is crucial in protecting the well-being of older adults. In this article, we delve into:

  • the safety debate surrounding bed rails
  • exploring both their benefits and potential risks
  • offer guidance on making informed decisions for the safety and comfort of our older loved ones.

Ready? Let's dive in!

The Safety Debate: Are Bed Rails Safe for the Elderly?

 Bed rails, often used to prevent falls from the bed, present a dichotomy of benefits and risks. On the one hand, they offer security and support, reducing the risk of falls for those with mobility issues or disorientation. However, there's also the potential for harm.

The primary concern is entrapment, where limbs or other body parts get caught in the rails or between the rail and the mattress, leading to injury or even more severe consequences. The Federal Register published a ruling from the US Consumer Product Safety Commision that determined portable bed rails needed higher safety standards due to their risk. They studied cases where bed rails contributed to accidents or deaths and summarized their findings, highlighting the highest risk factors and what measures need to be in place to prevent them.

Along with the ruling issued August 21st, 2023, they updated safety standards that bed rail manufacturers must follow on all newly manufactured rails. In the meantime, there are many bedrails that do not meet the new guidelines still on the market. So it's important to understand why these can be hazardous and how to mitigate risk,

Reported Issues with Bed Rails

The risks associated with bed rails aren't theoretical. Real-life incidents have occurred enough that many long term care facilities and senior living facilities have banned their use or limited use to 1 or 2 specific brands of bed rails. The design of some bed rails creates large gaps that can be hazardous because they allow for limbs or the head to fit through but may be hard to get out. Additionally, attempts to climb over bed rails have resulted in falls, counterintuitively increasing the very risk they are meant to mitigate.


discontinued bed rail with wide openings


This particular style bed rail was discontinued by the manufacturer in the past year, and while it was affordable and worked well with many bed types, the large space between the rails was enough to cause a safety hazard.




Guidelines for Safe Bed Rail Use

To guarantee the safe use of bed rails, it's vital to adhere to a few guidelines. Health organizations and the occupational therapists here at AskSAMIE recommend:

1. Assessing the individual needs of the older person to make sure using a bed rail is the best way to achieve their specific safety goal. (Consulting an occupational therapist to determine this is recommended!)

2. Choosing bed rails with a design that minimizes gaps and entrapment risks.

3. Regular monitoring to guarantee that the bed rails remain fastened securely to the bed for the best safety and limited risk of getting wedged between the rail and the mattress.

4. Never using bed rails as a restraint to keep someone from being able to get out of the bed.


Alternatives to Bed Rails

So what happens if you can't make sure that using a bed rail is going to be safe? There are alternatives to bed rails that can often provide similar benefits with reduced risks. Pressure alarm mats, for instance, alert caregivers when an older person attempts to leave the bed, enabling timely assistance.

Other options include:

  • lowering the bed to minimize injury in the case of frequent falls when climbing out of the bed unattended
  • using a floor-to-ceiling transfer pole to have a secure place to pull on to get up but doesn't have the risk of getting caught in the bars while sleeping.

These alternatives can help reach the person's safety and mobility goals without the potential hazards associated with some styles of bed rails.


Making the Right Choice for Your Loved One

Bed side rails for adjustable beds for seniors and the flip-down bed rail from AskSAMIE are both safe options for providing support when getting in and out of the bed and as a leverage point for changing positions in the bed. They can also prevent falling out of bed inadvertently if feeling it in the night is enough to wake the person and they can start repositioning in the bed.


In conclusion, while bed rails can offer security and prevent falls, their use isn't without risks. It's important to weigh the benefits against potential dangers and consider alternatives that might be more suitable for specific situations.

Consulting healthcare professionals for personalized advice, especially from an occupational therapist, is always recommended to guarantee the best care for our loved ones. This is the reason we have our virtual visits available at a cost-effective price. Get real-time solutions from clinicians on your schedule. Find more information about that here.

And as always, if you liked this content, sign up for our weekly newsletter for helpful hints and the latest and greatest in adaptive equipment for successful aging in place.

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Brandy Archie, OTD, OTR/L, CLIPP

Dr. Archie received her doctorate in occupational therapy from Creighton University. She is a certified Living in Place Professional with past certifications in low vision therapy, brain injury and driving rehabilitation.  Dr. Archie has over 15 years of experience in home health and elder focused practice settings which led her to start AskSAMIE, a curated marketplace to make aging in place possible for anyone, anywhere! Answer some questions about the problems the person is having and then a personalized cart of adaptive equipment and resources is provided.

She's a wife, mother of 3 and a die-hard Kansas City Chiefs fan! Connect with her on Linked In or by email anytime.

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