Sleep and Bedroom Safety for Seniors
Date Published: August 30, 2022
We spend about one-third of our time in bed, which makes the bedroom one of the most-used areas in our homes. Unfortunately, bedrooms are filled with hazards that can cause serious injuries, especially to seniors.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of injury and injury-related death among those aged 65 and older. Unfortunately, even non-fatal falls often lead to life-altering health issues such as hip fractures and head injuries that can make it difficult for seniors to remain independent.
Thankfully, there are several simple, low-cost steps you can take to improve sleep and bedroom safety for yourself and your loved ones.
In this guide, we look at the reasons seniors are vulnerable to falls and injuries in the bedroom. We also highlight what you can do to identify these risks, and how you can create a safe, comfortable and relaxing sleep environment.
Reducing Risks in the Bedroom
When it comes to hazards in the bedroom, there are two major factors to consider: health-related and environmental risks.
Health-Related Risk Factors
With advanced age comes several physical and cognitive changes. Older adults often live with multiple health conditions that increase their risk of suffering injuries in the bedroom. Some of these conditions are discussed below:
One in three seniors aged 65 and older has age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma or other age-related eye diseases. These conditions cause vision loss, which increases the risk of falls in the bedroom, especially at night.
According to the American Diabetes Association, 29% of seniors aged 65 and older live with diabetes. Diabetic neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that affects those with diabetes, can cause muscle weakness, a loss of balance and decreased ankle reflexes, all issues that increase fall risks.
Age-related urinary incontinence and decreased bladder control mean that seniors often make one or more trips to the bathroom at night.
Arthritis, a collection of over 100 conditions that cause joint pain, stiffness and inflammation, impacts half of all seniors. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis among older adults, and it can make everyday activities like getting in and out of bed difficult and painful.
Prescription and non-prescription drug use is very common among seniors. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 89% of respondents aged 65 and older reported taking at least one prescription medication at any given time, and 54% take at least four or more medications.
Many medications cause side effects such as dizziness and drowsiness that can increase the risk of falls.
Seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease may suffer from a condition known as sundowning, which can trigger increased anxiety, wandering and agitation during the late afternoon and evening. Sundowning can make it difficult for Alzheimer’s patients to remain asleep, and that increases the risk of falls in and around the bedroom.
Reducing Health-Related Risks
Unfortunately, most health-related fall risks can’t be eliminated, but they can be minimized by:
- Understanding how your specific health conditions affect your vision, dexterity, reflexes and mobility
- Knowing what side effects to expect from your medications
- Having your prescription and over-the-counter medications reviewed regularly by your health care provider and pharmacist
- Keeping up-to-date with your medical appointments and discussing any emerging concerns with your doctor
Tips To Reduce Trip and Fall Hazards in the Bedroom
In addition to the many health-related concerns that can lead to accidents in the bedroom, seniors and their caregivers should be aware of the many environmental dangers as well.
Clear Away Clutter
A cluttered bedroom is unsafe, especially for seniors.
Be sure that your bedroom is tidy and free of extra furnishings that could make navigating the space difficult. Don’t store books, bedding or boxes in the bedroom, and always make sure to keep the space around the bed, windows and doors clear.
Avoid Plush Carpets and Area Rugs
While deep-pile carpeting can feel luxurious in bedrooms, it also makes for an uneven and unsafe surface.
If you install carpeting in the bedroom, be sure to choose a low-pile, durable carpet. Better yet, replace bedroom carpets with easy-care, slip-resistant flooring that’s wheelchair and walker-friendly.
Avoid hard, unyielding materials such as natural stone, as well as ceramic or porcelain tiles. These flooring products can be exceptionally slippery when wet, and the joints between the tiles can be tripping hazards.
To improve the flooring in seniors’ bedrooms:
- Remove high-pile carpeting
- Remove area and throw rugs
- Install slip-resistant, smooth flooring such as cork, linoleum or vinyl
- Don’t use hard, slippery flooring products
- Choose light colors that make it easy for seniors to spot items on the floor such as slippers, pets and dropped items
Be Aware of Pets
Companion animals can provide seniors with constant companionship, as well as a host of health benefits. Pets are known to help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and they can reduce feelings of anxiety and loneliness – two common mental health concerns among older adults.
Unfortunately, cats and dogs also present a tripping hazard for their owners. Seniors with pets need to be extra cautious when navigating their homes, especially if they share their bedroom with their pets.
To reduce the chances of tripping over the family cat or dog, be sure to:
- Place dog beds against a wall, away from the owner’s bed
- Always check where the pet(s) are before getting out of bed
Tips To Make Getting in and Out of Bed Safer
Getting in and out of bed can be a real challenge for many seniors, especially if they’re living with mobility, vision or other health issues.
Here are some steps you can take to make getting in and out of bed safer, easier and more comfortable:
Install Motion-Activated Floor-Level Lighting
Many accidents in the bedroom are caused by poor lighting, especially at night. A simple, low-cost solution is to place battery-operated, motion-activated lights under the bed.
Available at all hardware stores and through online retailers, these energy-efficient lights can be placed all around the edge of the bed frame, as well as near bedroom doors.
When you go to get out of bed, the motion sensors in the lights are activated, illuminating the floor. The lights are pre-programmed to turn off when no motion is detected.
Add Bed Rails or Bumpers
Also called bed bumpers, bed rails are simple assistive devices that are mounted onto a bed between the mattress and box spring near the head of the bed using adjustable straps.
This assistive device can help seniors transfer in and out of bed. Bed rails can also be used for repositioning, and they can be fitted with a fabric pouch to hold remote controls, cell phones and other small bedside items.
Seniors who are at risk of falling out of bed may need a full-length bed bumper, similar to what you’d see on a hospital bed. You may want to install a smaller bed rail on the side you normally exit your bed and use a full-length bed rail on the opposite side for added safety.
Use a Transfer Pole
Transfer poles are sturdy, floor-to-ceiling devices that can be used at the bedside, as well as in the bathroom and other areas of the home. This assistive device is secured by tensioning the top and bottom plates against the floor and ceiling.
Transfer poles can be fitted with a variety of bars and padded grips to create a customized transfer aid.
Use Personal Transfer Devices
If you’re a caregiver to a senior who needs help transferring in and out of bed, there are some affordable personal transfer devices that you might want to consider. Most of these devices are priced at well under $100 and are readily available through online retailers, pharmacies and medical equipment supply stores.
Transfer Aids for Caretakers
There are also many transfer aids for caretakers that can make assisting a senior in and out of bed safer and more comfortable. These include:
Type of Transfer Aid
- Also called a gait belt or therapy belt, transfer belts are wide, padded belts used to help with caregiver-assisted transfers and ambulation.
- Transfer belts come in a variety of sizes and styles. Most are equipped with a large, quick-release plastic buckle and multiple handles that let the caregiver safely guide the patient.
- Transfer handles are simple double-handled devices made from durable silicone or another similar material.
- These portable, low-cost mechanisms are designed to give both the caregiver and senior a firm, steady grip while moving from a seated to a standing position and vice versa, without any worries about causing bruising or strain injuries.
- Pivot discs are small, movable seat cushions that work much like a lazy Susan, but for a person. The seat portion of the pivot disc swivels, providing simple, mechanical assistance to the user when transferring in and out of bed or onto another assistive device such as a transfer board.
- Transfer boards are sturdy, smooth boards used to create an even surface between a wheelchair and a mattress or two other seating surfaces.
- These boards have integrated handles to make moving them fast and easy, and can be used when getting in and out of a vehicle.
- Hoyer lifts are movable patient transfer devices used to lift patients in and out of bed and enable transfers between wheelchairs, shower chairs and toilets.
Get Help Paying for Transfer Devices and Other Bedroom Safety Products
Medicare Part B covers a wide range of bedroom safety products such as adjustable beds, Hoyer lifts, bed rails and transfer poles, as these devices are rated as durable medical equipment (DME).
Medicare Advantage Plan coverage for DME must match what’s offered by Original Medicare (Part A and B).
Prescription Required for Medicare-funded Devices
Medicare beneficiaries need a prescription from their doctor or another primary care provider to receive approval for Medicare-funded DME. Some specialized, high-value devices such as Hoyer lifts may require additional paperwork, such as a functional
Other Ways to Improve Sleep and Bedroom Safety
How To Improve Safety Sitting Up In Bed
Sitting up in bed can be challenging for many seniors, especially if they take one or more of the following common types of medication that can cause dizziness:
- Drugs to treat Parkinson’s disease
- Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories
- Anti-hypertensive (high blood pressure) medications
- Diuretics (water pills)
It’s also common for seniors to suffer from reduced mobility, joint pain and muscle loss, all of which can make moving from a prone to a seated position difficult.
An adjustable bed or powered bed frame can be a great option for those who have difficulty sitting up in bed. Available for purchase or rent from most major medical supply stores, these specialized bed frames come with many of the same features offered on a standard hospital bed. Seniors can simply raise the head of their adjustable bed using the included remote control to enjoy a helping hand whenever they need to sit up.
Seniors should also keep any mobility devices they need close to their bed to reduce the risk of falling while reaching for a cane, walker or wheelchair.
How To Improve Safety Navigating in the Bedroom
One of the best ways to make a senior’s bedroom safer is to make the space easy to navigate, even in low-light conditions. This means:
- Ensuring that there’s plenty of space all around the bed, next to windows and at the doorway
- Storing walking aids near the bed
- Wearing non-slip socks and sturdy, slip-on shoes or slippers
- Reducing tasks that require frequent getting up, such as turning on and off lights using a wall switch
- Eliminate obvious tripping hazards like area rugs
- Repair uneven flooring
- Replace plush carpet that’s difficult to navigate while using a walker or other mobility device
How To Improve Mattress Safety
When it comes to bedroom safety, it’s important to recognize the importance of having a comfortable, high-quality mattress that provides enough support for safe transfers.
Any mattress that sags or lacks support should be replaced, as a saggy mattress increases the risk that the user will slide to the floor while transferring or accidentally roll off the edge of the bed.
You’ll also want to consider upgrading to an adjustable bed frame that can be raised and lowered using an integrated motor. This feature makes transferring much easier for the user and their caregiver.
Adjustable bed frames are now widely available through most major furniture and mattress retailers. If you need more features than what’s offered on an adjustable frame, consider upgrading to an electric hospital bed.
How To Improve Bedroom Air Quality
Bedrooms are filled with products that can emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which are chemicals that can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms such as:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Red, dry or watery eyes
- Nose and throat irritation
- Irritation of pre-existing respiratory issues such as asthma and COPD
To reduce levels of airborne contaminants in the bedroom, use a HEPA air filter. These small powered devices pull air in using an integrated fan and emit filtered air back into the room. Air filtration is especially important for seniors who live in areas that are vulnerable to wildfires, on farms and in urban areas where the air quality is often quite poor.
Use a Humidifier or Dehumidifier
Another way to improve bedroom air quality is by ensuring that the room has the right amount of moisture in the air, which is about 40% to 60% humidity.
A bedroom that’s too humid can trigger mold growth and lead to higher levels of airborne allergens, while an excessively dry bedroom can cause dry skin, respiratory irritation and red, itchy eyes.
If the air in the bedroom feels dry, consider using a cool-air humidifier to add moisture to the room. For damp bedrooms, install a dehumidifier to reduce the risk of mold and respiratory tract infections.
High-Tech Sleep and Bedroom Safety Solutions for Seniors
With a little creativity, you can use a variety of high-tech solutions to help improve bedroom safety for seniors. These solutions may include the use of a smart home system, remote controls, motion detectors and medical alert devices.
Smart Home Voice-Activated Devices
Voice-activated smart home systems can be used to help increase sleep and bedroom safety for seniors and give their loved ones added peace of mind.
Smart home products now include light switches, security cameras, video doorbells, locks and thermostats, making it easy for seniors to control many devices from the comfort of their bed.
Seniors can use a smart home system to turn on the lights before getting out of bed, check the daily weather and even set medication reminders. Another important feature of most smart home systems is that they can make hands-free phone calls, which eliminates the need for seniors to locate their landline or mobile phone when they want to make a call.
Remote-controlled outlets can be purchased at any hardware store for less than $20 to use on bedside lamps, radios and other electronic devices that seniors might otherwise get out of bed to turn on and off.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one out of every nine seniors aged 65 and older lives with Alzheimer’s disease, a type of progressive-degenerative dementia that can cause wandering.
Family caregivers who support a senior with Alzheimer’s may want to install a wireless motion detector just outside their loved one’s bedroom to monitor for wandering, especially during the overnight hours.
Medical Alert Systems
Many wearable medical alert systems now offer automatic fall detection, a feature that triggers a call to the monitoring center as soon as a sudden fall is detected. This can ensure that if a senior should suffer a fall in the bedroom or anywhere else in their home, help will arrive quickly.
A simple baby monitor can be a great option for seniors who require assistance from another member of their household, especially during the overnight hours. Rather than needing to dial a phone or activate a button to call for assistance. With a baby monitor, the senior can simply call out to their caregiver.
While this option presents some privacy concerns, it can be a good short-term solution for family caregivers who need a low-cost way to communicate with a senior housemate.
Financing Home Safety Improvements
If you or your loved one needs help covering the cost of home safety improvements, you may be able to secure partial or full financing through one of these government-sponsored programs.
Also called a renovation loan or a mortgage rehab loan, an FHA 203(K) loan is a financial product that’s backed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).
Available as a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage or an adjustable-rate mortgage, an FHA 203(k) loan can be used to finance costs associated with home safety improvements and accessibility upgrades for seniors.
Unlike a traditional mortgage, with an FHA 203(k) loan homeowners can add any expenses they incur as part of a home renovation project to their mortgage and pay off these expenses on a monthly basis. Because the interest rates on this type of mortgage are far lower than the rates on home improvement loans and credit cards, an FHA 203(k) loan can be a great option for anyone who needs to remodel a bedroom for a senior.
There are two types of FHA 203(k) loans — streamline and standard. The streamline, or limited loan, provides homeowners with up to $35,000 in funding for renovations, while a standard loan covers renovation costs exceeding $35,000.
VA Specially Adapted Housing Program
The Veterans Benefits Administration sponsors two grant programs that can be used towards the cost of purchasing, renovating or building a home that’s outfitted with accessibility features.
Specially Adapted Housing Grant
A specially adapted housing grant, the SAH grant, provides eligible service members and veterans with a non-repayable grant of up to $101,753 (as of 2022). This grant can be used to either construct or renovate a home to meet the accessibility needs of the service member or veteran.
To qualify for a SAH grant, service members and veterans must be deemed eligible for VA disability compensation as a result of the service-connected:
- Loss of both legs; or
- Loss of use in both legs; or
- Blindness in both eyes; or
- Loss of the use of one leg combined with either a residual disease or injury; or
- Loss of use of one leg and one arm, which affects balance and unaided mobility; or
- Loss of use in both arms at or above the elbow; or
- A severe, life-altering burn injury
Special Housing Adaptation Grant
The VA also offers a special housing adaptation grant, SHA, that provides eligible service members and veterans with up to $20,387 (as of 2022) towards in-home accessibility modifications and improvements.
To qualify for the SHA grant, veterans and service members need to have an approved service-connected injury that resulted in the:
- Loss of function in both hands at or below the elbow; or
- A severe burn injury; or
- One or more specific respiratory injuries
Veterans and service members can apply for either a SAH or SHA grant through the eBenefits website.
assessment that’s performed by an occupational therapist or another rehabilitation specialist.