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What Is The Best Bed Height For The Elderly?

What Is The Best Bed Height For The Elderly?

Just like Goldilocks, you should look for a bed height that is just right - not too tall, not too short! Use this guide to getting the best bed height for an elderly person you love!
elderly couple getting out of bed
elderly couple getting out of bed
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It’s no secret that as we age, we become more likely to suffer injuries from even simple falls. Falls often result in hospitalization for those over the age of 65 and cause long-term decline in mobility and therefore independence. For those over the age of 80 years, a fall is more likely to be fatal.

There are a number of factors that increase this rate.

  • Decreased mobility and greater difficulty sitting, lying down and rising from a sitting or lying position.
  • Decreased height. It is estimated that we lose 1/3 of an inch for every 10 years we age over 40.
  • Poor bedroom safety rituals.
  • A bed that is too high or too low. A bed that is too low is more likely to cause a fall than a bed that is too high.

What is the Best Bed Height for the Elderly?

Currently, The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, recommend a bed height of between 20 and 23 inches from the top of the mattress to the floor. However, this recommendation is based primarily on making it easier to getting in and out of bed from a wheelchair and not necessarily what is best for a specific elderly person.

Since all elderly persons are not wheelchair bound, a more significant factor to take into account is the height of the individual. Even age-related height-loss doesn’t change the fact that elderly people are different heights and the ideal height of the bed should be tailored to their specific needs.

Ideally, the person should be able to ease themselves into a sitting position with both feet planted firmly on the floor and without needing to strain or use their hands for support.

Guidelines for the Best Bed Height for Older Adults

The following are good guidelines to start with:

  • The top edge of the mattress should be about 2 inches above knee height.
  • The feet should be placed flat and firmly on the floor while sitting.
  • The knees should be aligned with the hips – not higher or lower.
  • It should be easy for the person to lean slightly forward and then push up into a standing position.

High Beds

It’s often that you hear that higher beds are recommended for the elderly because it is believed that they are easier to access. While it may be easier to get out of the bed, high beds make it more to get into the bed.

Signs That Your Bed Is Too High

  • A bed is too high if the thighs or buttocks are pressing against the top of the mattress when leaning against it.
  • The senior needs to rise up on their toes or use their hands to push themselves up onto the bed.
  • The feet aren’t placed flat and firmly on the floor when seated.
  • The knees are aligned lower than the hips.
  • The senior is balancing in the edge of the bed and not seated far back.

Advantages Of A Higher Bed

Perhaps, surprisingly there are some advantages to having a taller bed.

  • It is easier to rise from a bed that is higher.
  • There is more storage space under the bed.
  • It’s easier to make clean underneath a taller bed.

Disadvantages Of A Higher Bed

  • A fall from a higher bed increases the risk of injury or seriousness of an injury.
  • Getting in an out of bed multiple times a night increases the risk of a fall.
  • Taller beds take up more space and can leave a bedroom feeling cramped.

elderly couple beside bedPin
When possible, adjust the height of the bed to meet the needs of the elderly person who will be using it.

Low Beds

On the other hand, low beds are often recommended especially for seniors with a history of falling out of bed. While they have their place in dementia care, they are not appropriate for the majority of older adults.

Signs That Your Bed Is Too Low

If the bed is too low you may notice the following:

  • The senior is falling into a sitting position rather than easing themselves down onto the bed.
  • The senior is placing their hands behind or beside them to help ease themselves down.
  • The senior is straining to get seated and bending too far forward.
  • The senior misses the bed entirely or thinks they are just about seated resulting in a fall.
  • The senior has difficulty rising from a seated position. If the knees are aligned higher than the hips, it is going to be more of a struggle to get out of the bed.

Injuries from beds that are too low can occur from strains and not just falls.

Advantages Of A Lower Bed

  • If the senior is prone to falling out of bed while sleeping or when waking, the a lower bed is better suited as it reduces the risk if serious injury.
  • It reduces the risk of muscle strain and injuries.
  • Research shows that sleeping closer to the ground results in a better quality of sleep.

Disadvantages of a Lower Bed

  • It is much more difficult to get out of a bed that is too low increasing the risk of falls.
  • The natural storage space under the bed is reduced or eliminated entirely.

Changing the Height of your Current Bed

A height adjustable bed is the ideal choice because it can be lowered or raised as needed and when needed. Alternatively, you can lower or raise an existing bed using the following methods:

How To Make A Low Bed Taller

There are plenty of ways to easily raise the height of a bed. It is however crucial to ensure that the bed does not loose any stability and that the frame is still stable. Beds that are raised are prone to instability and sagging which is a safety hazard.

  • Bed risers that allow rounded bed legs to fit snugly inside are a good option. The risers are generally made of wood so they can be further adjusted by sawing or sanding a small portion.
  • Another good idea is to attach coasters or wheels to the legs on the bed. This makes the bed mobile for easier cleaning and movement. Make sure that the wheels can lock and that the bed is sturdy once the wheels are attached.
  • The addition of a mattress topper is ideal because it won’t affect the sturdiness of the bed. The best mattress toppers for seniors come in different thickness and hardness or softness and act as great mattress protectors to improve the longevity of your mattress.
  • The simplest and most effective means to raise a bed is simply to place 4 bricks or blocks of wood at each corner of the bed. This may not be the most aesthetically pleasing solution and it is important to ensure stability, but it does work.

How To Lower A Bed That Is Too High

Unfortunately, it is a little more complicated to lower a bed that is too high.

  • Remove the caster wheels and/or bed legs.
  • If the bed has wooden legs, cut them shorter. Use a saw or power tools to achieve this. Make sure that all the legs are the same length so that the bed doesn’t rock you to sleep. If you are tool belt challenged, seek expert assistance.
  • It is also possible to purchase or make bed legs that will decrease the height of the bed sufficiently. Look online for various options.
woman with dementia getting out of bedPin
The height of the bed can greatly affect a senior’s ability to get in and out of bed safely.

Other Options To Increase Bed Safety For The Elderly

It isn’t necessary to run out and buy an new bed or take steps to lower or raise an existing bed. There are other options available that can make it easier for a senior to get in and out of bed while lowering the risk of injury.

  • Get a set of bed steps that can be placed next to the bed that the senior can use to get into a higher bed. Since getting out of a high bed is less problematic, this is a good solution.
  • Install a bed rail if there is a concern about falling out of the bed. The rail can double as a handhold to assist in getting in and out of bed.
  • Install a night light so that it is easy to see where to go when getting in and out of bed throughout the night.
  • Make sure that bed sheets, base coverings and all other linen are well off the floor and don’t pose a tripping hazard.

Also, check out these ways to keep the elderly from falling out of bed.

Don’t forget these bed heights apply to all beds that older adults use including daybeds and adjustable beds. Bedroom safety is crucial for the elderly and there is no better place to start with than ensuring the optimal bed height for the individual. If none of the above tips resolve the problem, it may be time to invest in a new and safer sleeping option.

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Scott Grant, CSA®, SHSS®

Scott Grant, CSA®, SHSS®

With over 20 years of experience and certifications as a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)® and Senior Home Safety Specialist (SHSS)®, Scott Grant provides reliable recommendations to help seniors maintain independence through informed product and service choices for safe, comfortable living.

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