FRIDAY, Dec. 27, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Caution is required when using portable bed rails because they put people at risk for falling or becoming trapped, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.
Portable bed rails attach to a normal, adult-sized bed, often by sliding a piece of the rail under the mattress or by using the floor for support. People can get trapped in or around the rail, including between the bed-rail bars, between the rail and the mattress, or between the rail and the headboard, said Joan Todd, a senior nurse-consultant at the FDA.
"Consumers need to realize that even when bed rails are well designed and used correctly, they can present a hazard to certain individuals -- particularly to people with physical limitations or who have an altered mental status, such as dementia or confusion," Todd said in an FDA news release.
Between January 2003 and September 2012, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission received reports of 155 deaths and five injuries related to portable bed rails designed for adult use, according to the news release. More than 90 percent of the deaths were caused by entrapment.
Of the 155 deaths, 129 occurred in people aged 60 or older and 94 occurred at home. About half of the victims had a medical condition such as heart disease, Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
The FDA has a new website on bed-rail safety that offers information about the potential hazards and advice for safe use. Here are some tips for caregivers:
- Make sure bed rails are appropriate for the person using them. Alternatives include roll guards, foam bumpers, lowering the bed and using a concave mattress, which can help reduce the risk of rolling off the bed.
- Not all bed rails, mattresses and bed frames are interchangeable. Check with the manufacturer to make sure the different pieces you're using are compatible with one another.
- Follow the manufacturer's instructions to ensure a proper fit. There should be no gaps between the rail and the mattress. Gaps can be created by a person's movements or if the bed's position shifts.
"Bed rails may provide greater support and mobility when the person using them changes position or gets in and out of bed," Todd said.
She said, however, that the rails need to be monitored and maintained so they don't loosen over time and create unsafe openings in which a person could become trapped. "Portable bed rails must not be installed and forgotten," she said.
Unlike hospital beds, not all portable bed rails are FDA-regulated as medical devices. The federal government has created a committee to develop voluntary standards for adult portable bed rails.
Visit the FDA for more about bed rail safety.