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Adult Bed Rails: A Solution For Some, Not For Others

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Do you care for someone who uses portable bed rails? These rails and handles may not provide the added safety you seek.  If the person you are caring for has physical limitations, dementia or delirium, portable bed rails could be hazardous. From January 2003 to December 2013, CPSC received reports of nearly 175 deaths related to adult portable bed rails. In addition, an estimated 39,600 adult portable bed rail injuries were treated in hospital emergency departments from 2003 to 2012. Most of these deaths and injuries occurred with people who were 60 years old and older. FDA reported 531 deaths from January 1985 to January 2013 with bed rails used on hospital beds. The biggest cause for deaths and injuries are from people becoming trapped. Entrapments happen between rails or between the rails and a mattress, a commode, the floor or a headboard. Portable bed rails include rails, handles and grab bars. They are attachable and removable from a bed, not designed as part of the bed by the manufacturer, and are installed on or used along the side of a bed. When we discuss portable bed rails, we’re referring to those used in homes and care facilities, not those on hospital beds, for the following purposes:

  • to reduce the risk of falling from the bed,
  • to help the consumer reposition in the bed, or
  • to help the consumer get in and out of the bed.

They should NOT be used as a restraint to keep a person in a bed. Bed rails come in different styles, shapes and sizes. Here are a couple of examples:

photos of a portable bed rail and a bed handle or grab bar.

Left: A portable bed rail. Right: A bed handle or grab bar.

Before you install a bed rail, consult with a doctor, and consider whether this is the right product for your situation. There are other alternatives when a bed rail is not the right solution. If you do choose to install a bed rail, follow these tips from CPSC and FDA:

  • Check with the manufacturer to make sure the bed rails are compatible with the mattress and bed frame. These are not one-size-fits-all products.
  • Select and place bed rails in a way that discourages climbing over the rails to get in and out of bed, which can lead to falling over the rails.
  • Install bed rails using the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure a proper fit.
  • Check bed rails regularly and readjust as needed to make sure they are installed correctly. Rails can shift or loosen over time creating dangerous gaps.
  • Check for recalled bed rails or handles.

Are you interested in more information related to bed rails and/or older adults? FDA has a website section dedicated to Bed Rail Safety.  CPSC recently published a report detailing consumer product related injuries to people 65 and older.  We also offer a free Home Safety Checklist for Older Consumers to help you stay safe.

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This address for this post is: http://www.cpsc.gov/onsafety/2014/05/adult-bed-rails-a-solution-for-some-not-for-others/