Are Bed Rails Safe or Not?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

I think my dad needs them. My friend told me they might be dangerous. Is it a good idea or not?

My father lives at home and either someone in the family, usually me, or sometimes a paid caregiver stays overnight with him as he often gets up in the middle of the night and although we've put a baby monitor by his bed and asked him to call out to us before he tries to get up he refuses to do so. He has fallen twice when getting out of bed at night. I have looked online at getting bed rails, but have also read they can be dangerous. Are they? Is there a better alternative to keeping him safe in his bed since he will not use the monitor and sometimes we don't wake up for every sound until it's too late.

Expert Answers

Bonita Lynn Beattie is the vice president for injury prevention for the Center for Healthy Aging, part of the National Council on Aging (NCOA). She directs the NCOA's Falls Free Initiative, which is developing and implementing a national action plan to prevent falls and fall-related injuries in older adults.

You are right to be concerned with this situation and I am pleased that you are working to address these recurrent falls. Yes, bed rails can be dangerous, especially at night if your father were to attempt to climb over them.

I think there may be a bigger issue here as to why he is getting up frequently and/or why he does not call for help - is he confused, does he suffer from urinary urgency/ or incontinence, is it a function of some medications he may be taking? Other issues might be poor balance or night vision, or dizziness when he stands up. I would urge you to make an appointment with his health care provider to assess and address any manageable causes of the situation before you begin to solve for it.

Some nursing homes make use of high-low beds putting the bed at the lowest level to reduce height of potential falls. Other solutions depending on the causative nature of the falls might be to have motion detecting night lights, making use of a bed side commode, or using a walker for the purpose of safely reaching the bathroom.

But I would urge you to follow-up on the cause of the problem and then engage in problem solving with your father and his providers, there may be other solutions. And having your father help to design the strategy will help ensure his cooperation as well.