Do Bed Alarms Prevent Falls? The Pros and Cons

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®

While there is not any concrete proof that bed alarms prevent falls. they are still an important part of a patient safety program. This is especially true when combined with other bed safety products.

senior sitting at bedside with spouse with dementia

While there is not any concrete proof that bed alarms prevent falls. they are still an important part of a patient safety program. This is especially true when combined with other bed safety products.

Income Disclosure: I recommend products based on my personal experience working with seniors.
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We’ve all fallen and taken a spill before. Unfortunately, what can be seemingly fun and innocent to a young person could turn into no laughing matter for someone much older. Fall death rates have increased by 30 percent from 2007 to 2016 for older adults [1].

It’s not an isolated problem either, every year more than 1 out of 4 older people falls each year [1]. This is not only a problem with elderly people and their increased likelihood of falling while standing but also while sleeping.

Have you ever rolled yourself out of bed by accident? This is very common among elderly people due to various issues. Unfortunately, a fall from a bed can be just as (if not more) dangerous for someone older than 65. Any falls can greatly affect their overall health.

That led a lot of researchers to ask the question: Do bed alarms prevent falls? They wanted to see whether or not a device like bed alarms (or chair alarms for that matter) could be effective at preventing falls.

While numerous research studies are showcasing its lack of effectiveness, these alarms continue to be endorsed by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) as valuable tools in preventing falls [2,3].

How Do Bed Alarms Work?

Bed alarms work by detecting a patient or user’s movement out of bed. It is meant for those who are at a higher fall risk while getting in or out of bed. A lot of falls that occur in nursing homes occur in the resident’s room when they are either getting in or out of bed [2]. The alarm can make it increasingly likely you will be able to get a caretaker, loved one, or nurse to assist them in getting out of bed safely without the risk of falling.

caregiver helping senior get out of bed

What Are The Pros Of Using Bed Alarms?

1. Fall Prevention

While there isn’t unequivocal evidence that the use of bed alarms eliminates falls, they certainly cannot hurt. Even if the alarm can prevent a single fall, it makes the device worth it. After all, a single fall can be life-threatening to someone over the age of 65.

Someone who has dementia or someone with a high fall risk while getting in or out of bed will need extra assistance. You want to be alerted to when they need assistance to increase the chances they can get out of bed or into bed safely.

2. Wandering Prevention

Another good thing about the use of bed alarms has to be the ability to prevent those susceptible to wandering from getting into trouble or getting hurt. Anyone who suffers from a degenerative mental disease is at risk for wandering. If someone with this problem wakes up and begins to wander at night, they could trip, fall, or hurt themselves another way.

By having an alarm installed, you will be able to have someone alerted when they get out of bed. This can help you prevent an accident from happening on your watch. After all, you cannot watch someone all night while they are sleeping. An alarm is a good way to prevent wandering without needing to have 24/7 surveillance.

3. Peace of Mind

Another good thing about using bed alarms has to be the peace of mind of not only the caretakers but the loved ones, as well. When you have someone at-risk for getting hurt while falling out of bed, you cannot help yourself but worry all the time.

By getting an alarm installed, you will be able to rest much easier knowing that someone will be alerted if your loved one either falls out of bed or begins to get out of bed. You simply cannot put a price on this kind of peace of mind.

4. Can Be a Reminder

An alarm can assist someone who has dementia in remembering they aren’t to be getting out of bed alone. While it won’t work 100% of the time, it can give them the reminder they need to wait for assistance.

What Are The Cons Of Using Bed Alarms?

1. Noise Level

One of the biggest downsides associated with bed alarms has to be the noise they create. Unfortunately, these alarms are certainly much noisier than you may like. However, they need to create enough noise to be effective.

2. No Definitive Proof They Prevent Falls

While a lot of nursing homes and hospitals have these alarms installed and they rely on them, no study definitively shows they keep falls from happening. Despite this, they are still widely used and relied on. Thus, one can guess that even medical professionals believe they can help to reduce falls despite the scientific evidence not pointing directly to that conclusion.

3. Can Startle Elderly People

Unfortunately, the noise level of these alarms can be counterproductive if it is too loud. After all, it can startle an older person as he or she is attempting to get out of bed which you would assume would make them much more likely to fall.

senior woman trying not to fall when getting out of bed

What Can Cause Bed Alarms to Fail?

There are several things that you have to worry about with bed alarms. For one, a lot of them will require external batteries. Therefore, you could potentially have an alarm that fails because it has run out of juice. You will need to either replace the batteries or recharge it to get it functioning again.

Luckily, most of these bed alarms you will find in the marketplace have low battery warnings which should give you the headway you need to swap out the batteries before you have to worry about it failing. Another reason an alarm could fail would be the electronics getting wet.

However, some alarms have the requisite materials needed for incontinence protection.

How to Combine Bed Alarms With Other Safety Products:

Because bed alarms are not proven to directly prevent falls doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be using them. It only means you shouldn’t be relying solely on bed alarms for fall prevention. Instead, you should be combining the best products in fall prevention to safeguard your loved ones. Luckily, by combining a couple of these products, you should be able to prevent a lot of falls from occurring.

Here are some of the best products you should combine bed alarms with:

1. Bed Rails

Bed rails are one of the most effective fall prevention products for seniors and the elderly you will find available in the marketplace. After all, a lot of the falls happen when patients are attempting to get out of bed. Likewise, these falls can even occur when they are sleeping in the bed while tossing and turning at night.

Bed rails can serve multipurpose for preventing falls. For one, they will require the patient or the person sleeping in the bed to sound the alarm for assistance. This can be a very effective way of preventing falls for those at-risk to fall while getting out of bed. Likewise, it can be an effective way to eliminate the chances of falling out of bed while sleeping because they will end up being stopped by the attached rails.

2. Fall Prevention Mattress

Perhaps even better than bed rails would be a fall prevention mattress. This can be one of the best ways to prevent a fall because these mattresses have built-in fall prevention and protection features. These mattresses have a barrier on each side which can keep someone from rolling off the mattress.

Best of all, this barrier is created by something much softer than a bed rail. Also, because it’s built into the mattress itself, you don’t have to worry about the person getting their extremities caught in the tight metal parts of a bed rail.

3. Fall Mat

A fall mat is another option that you could consider.

While this isn’t nearly going to be as good as something that prevents a fall in the first place, it can be an effective option when paired with a bed alarm. After all, using a fall mat for elderly people will make it much less likely the person will hurt themselves while sleeping or getting in or out of the bed.

The fall mat will limit the impact they make with the ground if they do happen to fall which can save them from suffering a serious injury.

4. Floor Pad Alarm

A floor pad alarm can be an effective addition to a bed alarm. After all, the floor pad alarm can alert the caregiver they have already stepped out of bed and they are attempting to stand up. Therefore, if you have both, you will be alerted from the initial bed alarm and then from the floor pad alarm.

This can make it much more likely that you respond to the alarm and you make it to the person in time to assist them with getting out of bed safely.

Summary and Final Recommendations

As you can see, when used properly and with all of the other prevention products, bed alarms can be a valuable addition to your safeguarding process. Preventing falls should be a top priority for any caregiver or family member with an elderly loved one. A bed alarm can be a good step in the right direction for preventing falls.

When combined with other fall prevention products, bed alarms can increase the chances you or someone is alerted to your loved one before them falling out of bed or finding themselves wandering around aimlessly.

References:

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Scott Grant, CSA®, ATP, CRTS®

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional
Certified Rehab Technology Supplier (CRTS®)

I have been serving seniors and the elderly for over 20 years as a medical equipment and custom wheelchair specialist for a regional medical equipment company. I am also a lucky dad to four awesome daughters and grandfather to three pretty terrific grandkids. When not helping older adult improve the quality of their lives, I enjoy early morning runs and occasional kayak trips. I am also a self-admitted nerd who loves anything from the 1980's. Learn More

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