Voluntary Guidelines Aren’t Enough To Prevent Deaths From Bed Rails

At least 150 people have died in bed rail-related incidents over the past 9 years

Bed rails, which are often installed alongside an older person’s mattress to prevent him or her from falling out, can be deadly. Between 2003 to May 2012, at least 150 adults dies after they became trapped in bed rails. During that same time, 36,000 mostly older adults visited emergency rooms with bed rail-related injuries. Yet experts say these deaths are avoidable. The New York Times reports:

More warnings are needed, experts say, but there is a technical question over which regulator is responsible for some bed rails. Are they medical devices under the purview of the F.D.A., or are they consumer products regulated by the commission?

Although the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Food and Drug Administration have known for more than a decade that bed rail deaths are an ongoing problem, neither organization has done much to crack down on the companies that make them.

In 2006, the FDA issued voluntary guidelines instructing medical personnel on how to use bed rails, including recommended size limits for the gaps and openings in the rails, which older people, especially those with Alzheimer’s, sometimes become fatally trapped in. These instructions were only guidelines, however, and while newer hospital beds include better-designed bed rails, old models still linger in the marketplace. Families or medical workers unaware of the danger may combine beds, mattresses and bed rails from different makers, which increases the likelihood of malfunction and an accident.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission and the FDA are reviewing bed rail deaths and injuries and considering possible actions that can reduct the regulatory gap between the two agencies and improve safety. In the meantime, families of bed rail victims are calling for more awareness and communication on the part of medical personnel. “Families need to be told about the possible dangers of bed rails,” the daughter of one bed rail victim, whose nursing home neglected to mention the danger, told the Times.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Better Sleep in the Golden Years? 
Ten Ways Tech Makes Old Age Easier 

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