Portable Bed Rails and What to Know About Them
If your loved one has difficulty getting in or out of bed, using portable bed rails may be a solution.
A bed rail offers stability and strength to a patient whose balance is uncertain and whose leg strength is less than normal. The patient can use their arms for lifting himself to a standing position while holding onto the rail for balance and stability. Portable bed rails are also helpful in re-positioning the user in a bed, and for preventing the user from rolling off the bed.
They are convenient and easy to use, so a caregiver may not expect that there are safety risks in using a bed rail.
Bed Rails on Hospital Beds
Hospital beds usually come with bed rails attached and these are usually not removed from the bed, but simply slide down for convenience. These beds are designed as a single system, with rails being part of the bed. Most hospital beds are regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) because they are considered as medical devices. Caregivers and patients should know how to use the rails on the bed safely moving them up and down as needed. Rails on hospital beds should not be used to restrain patients, and the use of a bed rail should be supervised by caregivers.
Portable Bed Rails
There are also portable bed rails, or bed rails can also be attached as an after-market purchase. Adult portable bed rails are sometimes known as bed handles, grab bars and assist bars. Usually portable bed rails are separate pieces which can attach to a regular adult bed usually by fitting under the mattress or standing on the floor beside the bed. They come in different sizes, materials, and styles. Portable rails can either be regulated by FDA as medical devices or by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as consumer products, depending upon their intended use. Unfortunately, there have been deaths of patients reported from using portable bed rails at home over the years, so they should be used cautiously at home.
Who Should Not Use a Bed Rail
When using a portable bed rail for any patient, there is a risk that the patient could become entrapped, could fall because the rail is loose, or could injure themselves on the rail in some way.
Ask your physical therapist, occupational therapist or nurse if the patient is able to benefit from a bed rail before you use one.
- Patients who have dementia or Alzheimer’s are often not effective or safe users of bed rails because they do not understand how to use the rail safely, or because they take risks, such as climbing over the rail.
- There are many patients who are very restless in bed and may get bedding stuck in the rail or even cause movement in the mattress’s position on the bed are probably not candidates for using portable bed rails.
- People who have seizures and who have mobility problems can be at risk when using bed rails.
- There are some better alternatives to portable bed rails for such patients such as roll guards, foam bumpers, or a concave mattress.
It may be safest to lower the bed to help the patient get in and get out of bed, and to assist the patient personally.
Cautions When Using a Portable Rail
If you are using a portable bed rail, make sure that the mattress, bed frame and bed rail will work together, so that there are no gaps between the rail and the mattress. Read the manufacturer’s instructions and warnings to make certain that this rail will work with the bed you have.
Also, read the manufacturers’ directions carefully to make sure that the rail is in place correctly and is firmly installed. If you have questions, call the manufacturer.
Ask your nurse, physical therapist, or occupational therapist to show the patient and yourself how to use a portable bed rail safely.
Check the bed rail regularly for safety. The rail may loosen over time and use. Don’t just assume that a patient who has difficulty getting in or out of bed can manage for himself just because there is a bed rail there. Caregivers should be watching and listening.
Installing and Using Bed Rails
The FDA and CPSC recommends certain actions to prevent deaths and injuries from entrapment or falls from adult portable bed rails. Read this helpful advice from the FDA for more information.