Bedrail Injuries

Many people are not aware of the dangers of bed rails. In fact, bed rails are actually a significant cause of injuries and death in hospitals and nursing homes. Every year, thousands of elderly residents of nursing homes are injured because of unsafe bed rails that restrict their breathing. The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the FDA have completed studies proving just how dangerous bed rails are. However,  there are still few regulations to keep elderly patients safe in nursing homes and hospitals.

Important Bed Rail Facts

  • There are 5 million hospital and nursing home beds in the U.S.
  • More than half of the bed rail incidents reported to the FDA result in death
  • 4,000 elderly patients are treated in emergency rooms for bed rail injuries every year
  • There have been 550 nursing home resident deaths since 1995 due to bed rails

Government agencies warn that many nursing homes do not report bed rail related injuries and deaths meaning the numbers and statistics that we have probably underestimate the problem.

How Do Bedrails Injure Patients?

The most common way patients are injured by bed rails is when they become lodged between the rail and mattress. Nursing home residents are often much older, frailer, and more likely to be on medication than the average elderly person. When these individuals fall into the gap between bed rail and mattress, they are sometimes not strong enough to pull or move themselves out of the gap.

As their bodyweight causes them to sink further in the space between the rails, their chest cavity becomes compressed, and they lose their ability to breathe. Deaths can be caused by asphyxiation or cardiac arrest as they feel trapped and become more stressed.

Some bed rail injuries also occur when patients are confused or disoriented and try to roll over the rails and off the bed. Falling off the bed from this height can cause serious fractures and broken bones.

Why Are Bed Rails Used in Nursing Homes?

Bed rails are rails, often metal, that hang on the side of beds. They are used in nursing homes for several reasons. They can prevent a resident from leaving the bed or rolling off the bed and injuring themselves. The rails can also act as support for patients when they are trying to adjust themselves in the bed and can aid in entering and exiting the bed. For patients who are not often disoriented and who are strong enough to move safely on their own, bed rails are convenient and relatively safe.

Why Are Bed Rails Dangerous?

The main reason why bed rails are dangerous is that they lack significant regulations to ensure that they are safe for all types of patients. Bed rail related injuries and deaths have been reported to the government for the last 30 years, but safety warnings and manufacturing guidelines have not been forced on the industry.

Another reason why bed rails are dangerous is because bed rails are not always used with the right beds and mattresses.  Bed rails are designed to be relatively safe and n most cases, if you use a bed rail with the proper bed frame and mattress that it was designed to fit there will be less risk of injury.  The problem is that as nursing homes move beds, disassemble, and reassemble beds, they often mix different bed rail products with different mattresses. Two products used together that are not a perfect fit create dangerous gaps between the mattresses and rails that make a living environment ripe for accidents.

What Can You Do?

Whenever you visit a loved one in a nursing facility, you should check the bed and the bed rails to make sure they are safe. Push the mattress as far from the rails as you can. If you can stick four fingers or more in between the mattress and the rails, then the bed is unsafe. Also be careful when buying bed rails for home use because they are usually don’t match the mattresses they are sold with.

Sources:

“Bedrail Memorandum.” Consumer Product Safety Commission. N.p., 11 Oct 2012. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <http://www.cpsc.gov/PageFiles/133466/adultbedrail.pdf>.

Deardorff, Julie. “Bed rails for elderly, their risks long known, face relative lack of scrutiny.” Chicago Tribune. N.p., 11 Jul 2013. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-07-11/news/ct-met-bed-rail-safety-20130707_1_rails-bed-medical-devices>.

Nixon, Ron. “After Dozens of Deaths, Inquiry Into Bed Rails.” New York Times. N.p., 25 Nov 2012. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/26/health/after-dozens-of-deaths-inquiry-into-bed-rails.html?adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1354302382-QX9iepl5JlOpC OIBfWGAA&_r=1&>.

http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/GeneralHospitalDevicesandSupplies/HospitalBeds/ucm123676.htm