Fall protection mats are an important part of a senior’s fall prevention program. These soft, cushioned pads provide a softer surface for landing which reduces the risk of an injury. However, they aren’t without their own hazards as well.
Keep reading to learn more about these important fall protection devices plus some best practices for putting them into use.
How Do Fall Mats Help?
Fall mats are usually rectangle floor pads with a solid waterproof surface and a soft inner surface made of foam or other cushiony materials. The edges are beveled to reduce the chance of the senior tripping over the edge. The bottoms are usually rubber or other anti-slip material so that the mat doesn’t move or shift while being used.
Fall mats are helpful because they provide a softer place for the senior to land when falling – especially if they are falling from bed at night. While they are often used at bedside, you will also find them near lift chairs and recliners, the bath, or the senior’s wheelchair. They come in lots of sizes for use in different areas of the home. They also come in different colors to match multiple decors and blend in or stand out as appropriate.
How to Use Fall Mats
When using floor fall mats in the VA Medical Centers, they use the following guidelines:
- Use with seniors who are likely to get out of bed without seeking help first.
- Place the mat on the side of the bed that the elderly person uses.
- Only use the mat when the patient is in bed and remove it when they are walking or out of bed.
- Use a mat that goes past the head of the bed and at least 44 inches wide.
- Furniture near the edge of the bed should be moved or padded for protection from a fall from bed.
Are There Any Dangers to Using Fall Protection Mats?
Yes, surprisingly, there are some hazards you should be aware of when using a fall protection mat according to the National Institutes of Health. The main issue is that because they are thick and soft, they could cause a senior with poor balance to fall – even if using one of the beveled edge models. Think of it as the difference between walking on a stack of pillows and a solid floor.
So, if not used appropriately these safety products could actually contribute to a fall.
This concern can be addressed by placing the mat beside the bed after the senior is tucked in. That way, the mat won’t have to be walked on at all but is in place to cushion a fall from bed – should it happen. Then, before the senior gets out of bed, roll the mat up and place it in a safe, secure location or stow it under the bed. Never let them walk on the mat.
Maximizing Fall Prevention and Overall Safety When Using Fall Mats
To make sure a fall mat is being used to it’s maximum potential, follow these guidelines:
- If the elderly person has any problems walking or with their balance, do NOT let them walk on the mat.
- If you decide it’s safe for them to walk on the mat, choose one with beveled edges to prevent them from tripping on the edge.
- Know the proper cleaning procedures necessary to keep the mat in the best shape possible.
- Choose the thickness carefully. Thick mats are a greater trip hazard and potentially unsafe to walk on but provide more cushioning. Thinner options don’t provide as much protection if a fall happens.
- Remember that these mats do not prevent falls while walking and are not to be used as a rug. Their sole purpose is to soften the landing from a fall.
What to Look For When Comparing Fall Mats
When shopping for fall protection mats for the elderly people in your life, here are the common features and specifications you will see. I’ll also throw in some of my recommendations along the way.
The thickness of the mat’s padding is one of the most important features to consider. And, they come in a surprisingly wide range of widths – as little as 1/2″ up to 4″ thick.
Like discussed above, you need to balance the thickness of the mat with the senior’s walking ability. But, the safest and best option when using floor mats is to NOT let them walk on it at all.
My recommendation is to get the thickest mat available and make sure you move it out of the way before the senior gets out of bed. After all, thicker padding = more cushion!
The next most important feature to think about is the overall size of the pad. A mat that is too short could leave the head exposed for injuries. If the mat is too narrow, a falling senior might miss landing on the mat and hit the floor.
In the VA Medical Center recommendations above, they suggest a mat that is 44 inches wide. But, I couldn’t find one that wide available on the retail market.
So, I recommend getting the largest mat that you can afford: at least 30 inches wide but 36 inches is better.
3. Folding vs Non-folding
These protective floor mats have models that fold or don’t fold. And, there are some differences here to consider.
Folding models are easier to move and store so that you can get them out of the way quickly when needed. Non-folding options can often be rolled up though when it’s time to be stored.
Some manufacturers claim that folding mats leave a small unprotected area that could lead to an injury. They say that the seam area creates a gap that could potentially let a body part through to make contact with the hard floor. However, rolling up a mat continuously can keep it from laying flat against the floor because some retain they curved shape.
My 2 cents? As long as you install a folding mat correctly with the right side up, it is unlikely that a tiny gap would create a hard surface. It is possible – but not likely.
RELATED: Best Flooring for the Elderly
4. Non-Slip Cover
If a senior ends up standing on the mat, you want to make sure it doesn’t move or slip from under their feet. All bedside mats come with an anti-slip cover and some even add a rubber backing to the bottom. That way, the mat itself won’t move and the senior’s feet won’t slip on the top of it either.
5. Total Weight
Because these mats are made of foam and vinyl/rubber coatings, none of them are very heavy. But, if the caregiver has any health problems of their own, choose a lightweight fall mat that is easy to fold and move for storage.
6. Easy to Clean
These products are, of course, used on the floor and may be walked on so you’ll want to find one that is easy to clean. Most of these are made of vinyl or rubber coatings that can easily be wiped with a damp cloth.
Bedside mats range in price from as little as $50 to as much as $200 or more. My research indicates that you can generally find a high quality mat in the $80 to $150 range.
The Best Fall Mats for the Elderly
Based on my research and experience working with seniors at a home medical equipment store, here are the best fall mats for seniors and the elderly.
The Secure Beveled Edge Fall Protection Mat measures 38″x72″ giving it a large fall protection coverage area. The edges are beveled to reduce tripping and to make it easier for walkers and wheelchairs to roll over it.
This mat uses a special high-impact absorption EVA foam that is similar to what is used in more expensive athletic shoes and sneakers. This allows the foam to be thinner but offer similar protection. For example, this mat is only 1″ thick but kept an egg from breaking after is was dropped from a height of 4 feet.
The cover is anti-microbial and latex-free, mildew-resistant, and flame retardant! Both sides are slip-resistant too. Plus, it is one of the few folding beveled edge mats on the market so it easy to store. There are also available in waterproof and “Glow In The Dark” options.
This folding mat product from Secure is also commonly used in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
The main difference with this one is that it uses a high quality EVA foam similar to what’s found in athletic and running shoes. Plus, to test out is cushioning ability, an egg dropped from 4 feet did not break when it hit the mat.
This one is just a bit shorter than some of the other options at 66 inches long but is 30 inches wide to make up for it. Foam thickness is 2 inches.
In my opinion, the Skil-Care Soft-Fall Mat is the best fall mat for the elderly because it comes in large sizes with the thickest padding and is used in nursing homes throughout the country.
The mat comes in a range of sizes to meet most anyone’s needs. The basic size is 68 inches long by 24 inches wide and is available in both 2 inch and 4 inch thicknesses. But, I recommend the 36 inch wide model because it covers more space which offers more protection. Go with the 4 inch thickness too.
It folds easily in to three sections for easy removal, installation, and storage under the bed or close by. This one is very lightweight (about 5 pounds) and even has straps that hold it closed and double as a carrying handle and hanger for storage in a closet. Plus, you can unbuckle it and have it back out when you need it.
The cover is soft, waterproof and made of non-slip vinyl. Inside are two thickness choices (2 inch and 4 inch) of shock absorbing high density polyurethane foam.
The Drive Medical Tri-Fold mat folds in (wait for it!) 3 sections to store away easily in a closet or the foot of the bed. And, it comes in a larger than average size at 72 inches long by 30 inches wide. Foam thickness is 2 inches.
Remaining features are standard: easy clean, non-slip vinyl cover with non-skid bottom and high density protective foam. Weighs just 3 pounds.
Drive Medical makes my next recommendation. The Safetycare series offers a wide range of mat sizes and thicknesses. I am recommending their 36 inch wide by 66 inch long model in a 2 inch or 3 inch thickness.
This mat has an equivalent cover and foam to most of the other models you’ll read about here. So, I won’t bore you with those details again. But, it comes in a larger width than most of them. Instead of 24 inch or 30 inch width, you can get this in a full 36 inch to offer the most protection possible. Total weight is about 5 pounds.
This mat passed a 5 foot egg drop test with no damage to the egg due to it’s high quality foam padding. The edges are beveled to reduce the chance of trips.
The textured vinyl “leather look” is attractive and comes in both grown and gray. It is also extremely durable too. There is also an anti-slip bottom to keep the mat secure in its location.
This one comes up a bit short in the width though – only 24″ wide. Overall dimensions are 24 inches wide by 72 inches long. It’s only 3/4 inch thick but makes up for it somewhat with a higher quality foam padding.
Summary and Final Recommendations
I’ll bet you agree with me that there is more to consider with fall protection mats than you probably thought.
But, to boil it down, here is how to safely use a bedside mat to reduce the chance of an injury from a fall from bed:
- move the mat out of the way when the senior gets in or out of bed;
- never let the senior walk on the mat – especially the thicker options – for the reasons discussed;
- choose the largest mat size with the thickest padding that you can afford.
It really is that simple.
Do you have an experience using fall protection mats that you would like to share? Please tell me about it in the comments below!