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Why Do the Elderly Fall Out of Bed

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Why Do the Elderly Fall Out of Bed?
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Why Do the Elderly Fall Out of Bed?

October 20, 2020

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in four Americans age 65 and older falls each year. Falls result in more than 2.8 million injuries treated in emergency departments annually, and the injuries seniors may sustain range from minor scrapes and bruises to life-threatening situations. With or without significant injury, falls can greatly impact quality of life. Those who have fallen before may become limited in activity and social engagement, increasing their risks of physical decline, depression, social isolation and a loss of independence.  

a bed and a nightstand with a lit lamp on top

Falling out of bed is a concern for many older adults and their loved ones. In a place where they should feel safe, and are not participating in risky activities, many seniors have experienced one or repeated episodes of falling out of bed. Depending on the bed’s height, falls may cause serious injury. And when a fall out of bed happens, they’ve just woken from sleep, so there’s a greater chance that fatigue and disorientation will keep a senior from getting the help they need.  

The good news? There are ways to manage and minimize risk factors that increase a senior’s chances of falling out of bed. There are also products that can help your loved one sleep safer.  

Causes of Older Adults Falling Out of Bed

There are several factors that may contribute to an increased risk of falling out of bed for seniors. Some risk factors can be managed with simple environmental and behavioral changes, while others may require a doctor’s advice, changes in medication and special safety modifications to your loved one’s sleeping environment.

First, let’s look at some simple reasons a senior may fall, or nearly fall, out of bed. You can help identify these potential issues and make changes to your loved one’s room and habits that may help. Reasons for falling out of bed include:

  • A change in the sleeping environment, including dimmer or less-accessible lighting, changes in furniture position or even a change in which side of the bed a senior sleeps. A habitual reach for a lamp or pair of glasses can turn into a tumble if something in the room has changed.
  • A new bed, especially one that is a higher or lower distance from the floor. This risk relates to behavioral habits as well. Someone who has been sleeping in the same bed for decades may over- or underestimate the effort needed to safely exit a new bed.
  • Slippery sheets or pajamas, especially if new, could contribute to a fall if your loved one tends to move around a lot in their sleep.
  • Forgetting to put on glasses can be a fall risk for someone with impaired eyesight. Keeping glasses close by on the nightstand can help.

More complex causes for elderly falling out of bed include:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, which causes dizziness and other symptoms due to debris collecting within a part of the inner ear.
  • Medications, or the timing of those medications. Some prescriptions can cause dizziness or disorientation as a side effect. Check with your loved one’s pharmacist and doctor if you think this may be a factor.
  • Incontinence or urinary urgency, which can cause your loved one to rush to the bathroom and move more recklessly than usual, increasing their risk for a fall.
  • Vision problems. If your loved one remembers their glasses but still falls out of bed, it may be time to visit the eye doctor to see if they need a new prescription or have a more serious ocular issue. 
  • Restless sleep. Difficulty sleeping with increased tossing and turning may be sparked from increased emotional, mental or physical stress in your loved one’s life. In this case, calming strategies and even therapy could help.
  • Disorientation or sundowners syndrome stemming from dementia. Those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can become easily confused or disoriented. Sundowners syndrome involves confusion, agitation and fatigue that is heightened in the evening.
  • Recovery from an injury or major surgery, which can lead to changes in mobility and balance.
  • A recent traumatic medical event affecting mobility, like a stroke or heart attack.
  • Neuromuscular or musculoskeletal disorders, which can reduce a senior’s mobility due to weakness, numbness, stiffness and other issues. 
  • Sleepwalking tendencies or REM sleep behavior disorder. The latter causes a person to physically act out vivid dreams with vocal sounds and sudden, often violent, arm and leg movements 

How to Help Prevent Seniors From Falling Out of Bed 

Simple changes to your loved one’s sleep environment are good solutions for preventing elderly falling out of bed. Keep lamps with simple switches on both sides of the bed for easy access, and consider a night light. Keep an extra pair of eyeglasses and other commonly used items on a nightstand close to the bed. Make sure your loved one’s phone – cellular or landline – is within close reach of the bed so they can call for help if needed. Lower the bed closer to the floor, when possible, if it is too high for your loved one’s feet to touch the ground from a seated position. Or, consider buying a platform bed.

If the senior is dealing with extreme urgency or incontinence issues, consider adding a portable commode chair near the bed to avoid frequent nighttime trips to the bathroom. 

If you believe a medical condition or medication may be leading to your loved one’s falls, or putting them at high risk for falls, make an appointment to talk about different treatments, dosages or dosage timing to lessen these risks. Your loved one’s doctor may have helpful suggestions for fall prevention directly related to their medical needs. 

Products to Keep Seniors From Falling Out of Bed

For restless sleepers, you may just need to install a simple barrier to keep your loved one from leaving the bed unless they are assisted or fully awake. A foam pool noodle tucked under the fitted sheet or mattress pad on both sides of the bed might do the trick. A large body pillow on either side of a sleeping senior can also help prevent them from rolling during the night.

If your loved one needs a more stable and substantial barrier to keep them in bed, bed rails may be the right solution. Read reviews in advance to select sturdy bed rails, and ensure that you install them as securely as possible. Your loved one can also use a bed rail to brace themselves when getting out of, and into, bed.

Placing a foam fall mat on the floor directly next to the bed can soften the landing surface for potential falls, reducing the risk of serious injury.

In addition to lower-profile platform beds, certain beds are designed for seniors or those with limited mobility and can reduce the risk of falls. A hospital bed may be a good option for someone struggling with mobility, given its adjustability and built-in guard rails, but some seniors find them restrictive or uncomfortable.

Finally, investing in a high-quality bed alarm can alert you if your loved one leaves, or attempts to leave, their bed – giving you time to get to them and offer your assistance.

To learn more about how to keep your loved one from falling out of bed, or minimizing falling hazards in general, check out Elmcroft’s Fall Prevention Program. 

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