Mattresses & Bedding for People With Disabilities
Complete mattress and bedding product guide to help people with disabilities sleep comfortably
If you are disabled or are a caretaker of someone who is, it can be frustrating sometimes to find equipment that can help solve the daily living challenges you face. Things like being able to get in and out of bed, being able to sleep soundly, or being able to stay in bed without rolling and falling off the mattress can be difficult.
The purpose of this guide is to help make your sleeping and bedding arrangements more comfortable by introducing you to bedding products that can make being disabled a bit easier.
Let’s take a look at some of the most useful bedding and mattress products available on the market.
Alternative Bed Types
Sometimes conventional bed types simply won’t work for one reason or another, so here are some alternatives that may be able to help you live and sleep more comfortably.
Adjustable beds come in many shapes and forms, but their main draw is that they can help people with limited mobility achieve the body position that they desire without too much effort. An adjustable bed can usually be set in a flat position for sleep and then other alternative positions.
One huge benefit of an adjustable bed is that they allow people who cannot easily get out of bed and into a chair the ability to sit up. Since adjustable beds are usually electric, this also frees caretakers from the task of having to lift the disabled person into the desired position. The person in the bed can watch TV, read, write, or use a computer just as they can from a chair. Most of the time, adjustable beds are more comfortable than standard recliners, anyway.
Another feature of adjustable beds is that the foot of the bed can be elevated. This can be particularly helpful for those who suffer from circulation problems because their legs can be lifted above their heart. This helps blood drain back into the body and can even reduce pain.
If your body position is important and you need to be able to switch without much physical effort on your part, an adjustable bed would be a very good investment. It’s especially useful for those who are bed-ridden and will be spending a long portion of the day lying on a mattress. If you have a back injury, the different available positions on an adjustable bed can help you find a comfortable way to sleep.
A turning bed is something of a cousin to the adjustable bed. Its purpose is to move the person so that they are not lying in one position for too long. Many medical problems can unintentionally develop simply from being in the same position for hours on end, but a lot of disabled people cannot properly move themselves to a new position.
The main benefit of turning beds is that they can be a major tool in relieving the possibility of bed sores. Because they tilt from side to side at certain intervals, the person can roll over automatically, and a lot of pressure is relieved.
Turning beds can also often be controlled by the person who is lying in them. When someone has a limited ability to roll themselves, this can give them a certain level of independence. It makes it easier than having to call a caretaker to manually adjust them every time they start to experience pressure and discomfort.
These kinds of beds work great for those with back pain or extremely limited muscle tone. The fact that many of these beds can also be programmed to turn automatically at set times can really help maintain comfort even if a person has a tendency to slip in and out of consciousness and isn’t aware enough to control the bed manually.
Editors Note: We've had a few people ask about ‘turning beds'. After some research, it does appear they are more widely available in the UK and Australia. If you are in the UK or Australia, you will find plenty of options. People in the USA might have a slightly more difficult time finding this type of bed. There appears to be only a single brand available here.
In the interest of helping people find ‘turning beds' suppliers in the USA, here are a couple of supplier's websites. Please note, we are not affiliated with these websites and do not endorse them – do your own research into the supplier's business operations before considering any purchase.
http://www.carelincmed.com/?i=HOSPITALBEDS (bottom of page)
Low Profile Bed
A low profile bed essentially means that the bed’s frame is lower to the ground than is usually the case. The specific height of the bed can vary, but usually they will lay less than roughly 10 inches (25 cm) above the ground. Often, they are adjustable in height, similar to the kind one may find in hospitals. The idea is that those who have limited mobility can have an easier time getting safely in and out of bed.
One benefit of this is that it reduces impact on the joints compared to a bed that is too high and produces some stress when “landing” on the floor. One can more gingerly step out of the bed and it allows for a slow decent as well as close to no effort when crawling into bed.
The major benefit however is that low profile beds will tend to cause less injury if the sleeper were to accidentally fall out of the bed. With only a few inches of distance, the impact is quite low, especially if other safety measures are taken into account.
Low profile beds are a great option for people who are weak and cannot afford the injury of falling when getting out of bed, or those who tend to toss and turn during the night. It can also be useful for those who have shorter body frames combined with limited mobility.
Alternative Mattress Types
Mattresses can have a huge effect on the quality of sleep and even on the ability for a person to heal from injuries, especially if they are disabled. Here are some different mattress types that may be useful if you are differently abled:
Memory Foam Bed
Memory foam was at first developed to cushion those who would be experiencing excessive G-forces, such as astronauts, but nowadays many use memory foam mattresses as a convenient way to offer support without irritating pressure points on the body. While traditional mattresses are often made of metal springs that push back against the sleeper, memory foam mattresses gently conform to the body.
One of the main benefits of memory foam mattresses is that they reduce pressure points. The sleeper therefore doesn’t need to roll around as much in his sleep to get comfortable, which can not only enhance the quality of sleep, but can reduce pain for people who have injuries that they’re rather not irritate with movement.
For people who are bed-ridden, memory foam can also help reduce the possibility of bed sores because it naturally applies less pressure to the body.
Mattresses like these have benefits even for the everyday, non-disabled person, but they are particularly ideal for those who experience back pain when sleeping on a metal-spring mattress, those who will be spending a lot of time in bed, and those who experience sleep disturbances from constant tossing and turning. Memory foam both supports and cradles the body, so it can often be the best of both worlds for those who cannot easily sleep in either firm or soft traditional mattresses.
Extra Firm Mattresses
For some, soft beds will irritate back pain because they don’t offer enough support. Extra firm beds are designed to help keep the spine aligned and avoid the “hammock” effect of a mattress with less firm support.
The main draw of a firm mattress is of course support. It protects the joints and bones from injury and helps keep the body from falling into an awkward position. Many times, softer mattresses will sag over time, which will lead to dips in the material. These dips can lead to poor sleeping positions, not just when it comes to ones spine, but also the limbs and other body parts.
By extension, the second most important benefit is that it allows for deeper, fuller rest. Because one is less prone to falling into awkward positions during the night, one is less likely to have to wake and turn over, which allows one to get deeper rest.
Firm beds are ideal for people who suffer from chronic back pain and need to maintain the correct posture while sleeping. Having an extra firm mattress can be ideal for others as well, however, because it provides the support needed to avoid these sorts of injuries in the first place.
As annoying for the person as it can be, certain disabilities result in a person being unable to hold their urine during the night, which can lead to a ruined mattress over time. While diapers can be helpful to a degree, with all the unconscious moving around that can happen in ones sleep, leaks are likely to happen at one point. Using a waterproof mattress can go a long way to making cleanup easier.
The benefits of having a mattress like this are many. Since the urine cannot soak into the sponge of the mattress, the mattress will last much longer than one that is not waterproof. It can also withstand accidental spills much better.
A waterproof mattress also tends to smell better because it does not accumulate urine and keeps an area fresh even if the sleeper is severely incontinent and voids on the mattress every day. While some protection from this can be provided by draping a normal mattress in waterproof pads, there is always the possibility of leakage unless the mattress is inherently waterproof.
Many times mattresses are not enough to give you the body support you need, especially if you must remain in the same position for a long period of time. Here are some accessories that you can use with your mattress that can provide the needed support:
Mattress elevators come in different shapes and thicknesses, but they basically serve as a way to tilt parts of a mattress up and provide an ideal angle for the user. Often they are wedge-shaped and are placed directly beneath the mattress. They can be made of various materials.
A common way that mattress elevators are used is to lift the feet up above the heart in lieu of an automatically adjusting bed. This can often help people who have circulation issues or who are simply attempting to reduce swelling. Individuals with injuries to the legs can also benefit from this elevation.
Another common way to use mattress elevators is by wedging them near the upper body of the user. This allows the user to sit up in bed comfortably and with full support.
People with limited movement who can’t afford or simply don’t want an adjustable bed could benefit from a mattress elevator. Those who have just suffered temporary injury to the lower limbs can also use these to promote faster healing and comfort.
Neck Support Pillows
Even for those who have no pre-existing injury to the spine, constantly placing the neck in an ergonomically disadvantageous position can cause a progressive injury over time. Neck support pillows can serve to mitigate that problem. Normal pillows often lack support for the neck and just allow it to droop down, which can cause straining and discomfort.
Neck support pillows keep the sleeper from defaulting to an awkward neck position in their sleep, and can help to keep the spine aligned. In the long run, this leads to a healthier back and neck, and can help keep the sleeper more mobile.
In addition, neck support pillows can promote a long, comfortable sleep with few interruptions. Good sleep is essential for health, especially in those who suffer from disabilities. A memory foam neck pillow can also reduce pressure points and reduce the need for the sleeper to move around; this is ideal when the person is disabled and often needs help even to just turn over.
Neck support pillows can benefit a whole host of individuals, from the able-bodied to the disabled. However, those who are disabled from a back injury will find them particularly helpful because they help to align the spine and to keep it stable.
Body pillows have been used for thousands of years due to their various benefits. Typically, they are long pillows that are roughly the length and width of the human body, and the user can cling to them and rest part of their weight on its cushioning.
Body pillows help to relieve strain on the bones and joints by avoiding the awkward positions that one could easily experience on a flat mattress. This especially applies to hip, shoulder, leg, and back strain.
In addition, the extra support allows the body to more fully relax, since less tension is needed to keep the body in a certain position. This can promote deeper sleep.
Body pillows are a great accessory for those who are too disabled to roll around into various positions during the night, and need a supportive cushion that will keep them in the same position. It can also benefit those who are injured or simply must sleep in a given position that their body normally cannot hold on its own.
Many people simply don’t have the mobility to get in and out of bed on their own without help. However, there are some products that you can use that can help you increase your independence and get in and out of bed without the need for human assistance:
Bed Grab Handles
Just as you may encounter handles on disabled walkways or in accessible restrooms that are designed to help individuals to lift themselves up, there are similar products that can be installed on the frames of beds to serve a similar function. Many times they can be installed simply using standard tools to a pre-existing bed frame, and they often take the form of a rail or a pole.
These kinds of grab handles make it much easier to slide in and out of bed, even if the user has limited balance. It can also provide some support if the person has difficulty adjusting their position once in bed.
Grab handles can also be very useful when ascending from or descending to a wheelchair. It can make reduce the effort that a caretaker must make when moving someone who has limited mobility, and it can allow the user to leverage their own strength in order to help in a safe way.
Thus, bed grab handles can be extremely useful for the elderly and others who may be prone to falling when crawling out of bed. It can also help people who spend much of their day in a lying position and may experience a rapid lowering of blood pressure (and resulting weakness) upon standing up. Wheelchair users may also find them extremely helpful.
Bed Hand Block
A bed hand block is basically a pair of handles attached to a flat weight that can be placed directly onto the surface of the bed. They appear similar to certain kinds of exercise equipment, like those used to perform push-ups, but they actually help users to more easily lift themselves off the bed.
Hand blocks can be particularly helpful to those with joint injuries, especially in the wrists. Rather than having to bend the wrist to lift ones body, one can keep the hand and arm aligned for a much stronger grip and position. This minimizes injury.
One of the more common uses for hand blocks, besides serving as handles to lift the body out of bed, are for those instances when the user needs to lift only their buttocks from the bed—for example, to allow a bed pan to slide underneath or to allow a caregiver to clean up the result of any incontinence without the user having to leave the bed.
Hand blocks are ideal for people who still have a certain amount of body strength, but who have difficulty with coordination on top of a soft surface like a bed. Those with joint pain, but with still well-functioning muscles may find it useful.
Bed steps can made the trip to and from bed a bit easier for those who have difficulty lifting their legs high, especially if one has a high profile bed. Combined with bed grab handles, bed steps can reduce injury for those who are less mobile.
A main benefit of bed steps is that they make the transition from the bed to the floor smoother. Many times disabled or elderly individuals may lack even the flexibility to raise their knees high enough to climb onto the bed.
In addition, bed steps can prevent falling by providing a slower descent as well and reducing the impact on the joints that one giant step from the mattress to the floor might provide. With steps, the user can pace themselves a lot more. To a lesser extent, they are also a convenient way to allow pets or small children to join the disabled person on the bed without their having to be picked up.
People who are prone to injury from sudden movements or who are easily prone to falling may find bed steps useful. Those with knees injuries or arthritis of the knees may also find it easier to take many small steps slowly down to the floor than to chance jumping down sharply.
Bed Rope Ladder Pulls
Though they might appear a bit funny at first, rope ladder pulls allow a person to more easily pull themselves out of bed. One end attaches to the foot of the bed frame, and the other end is allowed to sit near the user. When the user wants to sit up or start to get out of bed, they grab one end and “climb” their way into a seated position by pulling on the rope.
This device can make it easier to move around for those with injuries or diseases that prevent them from being able to lift themselves from the bottom up. If ones upper body pushing muscles are weak or disabled—such as the triceps—or ones wrist joints suffer from chronic pain, being able to pull oneself out of bed rather than push can make all the difference.
In addition, pulling oneself up is a more gradual process, and may help prevent sudden reductions in blood pressure.
These rope ladders are ideal for people who are semi-mobile and still have use of their latissimus dorsi (upper back) muscle group. For those who are unable to roll over or change their position much, it can allow a straight-forward way to sit up in bed.
For people who are disabled, injuries can be much more disastrous. Especially if you live alone, it may be a challenge for you to get the help that you need, so often a good approach is to try to avoid injury as much as possible in the first place.
Most headboards are extremely hard, and even many able-bodied people will unwittingly injure themselves during the night when they are tossing and turning. This can be a major problem because usually it’s the head that suffers the brunt of the force. Headboard pads serve as soft cushions that are draped over the bed’s headboard and protect the sleeper from injury.
Since a disabled person may spend a lot of time in bed, a headboard pad may be a perfect addition to the safety equipment that surrounds them. This is especially true for people who may suffer from involuntary movement that could launch them up into the headboard.
When a bed-ridden person sits up, they may also have the unconscious tendency to lead against the headboard. This can not only be uncomfortable, but it can lead to back and neck strain. A padded headboard will add at least a small level of support to prevent injuries from these uncomfortable positions. Pillows or a mattress elevator may also help in this regard.
Headboard pads are ideal for those who are constantly moving around in the bed unconsciously or who have a tendency to rest the head and upper body on it. Resting ones head at an angle on even a padded headboard is not a good idea, since it can strain the neck, but at the very least it will prevent head injuries and bruising.
Just as headboards are hard, so are floors, and someone who is not aware of their constant moving or who is unable to control their muscles due to disability may fall from the bed during the night unless they are properly confined. A bed rail acts to close the person in so that they will hit the rails and not fall over the edge if they roll over and miscalculated the bed’s size.
Bed rails can protect people from injury, especially those with weak bones that are easily prone to breaking, such as the elderly. If a person cannot afford to fall from a bed and will likely suffer dire consequences, some degree of confinement may be necessary.
Just like anyone else, disabled people may also suffer from sleep disturbances that cause them to toss and roll, and perhaps even fall from the bed. While people with normal levels of mobility may be able to simply stand up and get back into bed, a disabled person may be stranded on the floor for hours until they are noticed and returned to their mattress, even if they aren’t injured. Bed rails help to avoid this problem altogether.
An ideal candidate for a set of bed rails is anyone who would suffer grave injury from falling off a bed. For example, a very elderly person with a high profile bed could benefit from bed rails and should probably invest in them. Additionally, people with sleep disorders that cause them to act out and move around in their sleep may be able to confine themselves somewhat with bed rails, or at least reduce the possibility of falling.
Bed Rail Pads
Since bed rails can present yet another hard surface where a person can face injury, sometimes adding pads to the rails themselves can help reduce discomfort and injury. Similar to headboards, users may unknowingly trash against them in their sleep.
Bed rails prevent bruising and scratches, and sometimes even self-injury if the user is prone to this. One should especially consider adding padding to a rail if it has any pointy edges or exposed hardware.
They are also simply more comfortable if the user is prone to rolling around in their sleep and falling asleep in awkward positions. The padding of the rail can serve as an added cushion of support in cases like these.
Bed rail pads are great for people who tend to knock against the sides of the bed and are easily prone to bruising. Elderly and disabled people who don’t heal well from minor injuries could greatly benefit from this enhanced protection.
When bed rails are not present, or they simply haven’t been able to do their job for whatever reason, the final line of defense for a person who is at risk for falling out of bed are floor pads. Ideally, they would not be necessarily, but they are relatively non-expensive and can potentially protect against catastrophic injury, especially in people who cannot heal well, such as those who are of advanced age. They are usually made of foam or some other soft material.
While a low profile bed can certainly help reduce the impact of a fall, if a person’s bones are brittle or easily prone to injury, the extra care of laying pads on the floor may prevent problems if a fall does occur. At the very least it will provide some peace of mind, especially if the person is not consciously aware of their actions and may try to crawl out of bed without assistance against a care giver’s instructions.
In addition, soft floor pads can make the descent from the bed to the ground easier for the user. It provides a low impact surface that may be more gentle on the joints—especially the knees—than a hard floor that has no “give.” If the user attempts to get out of bed, but trips or suffers a fall as they are attempting to sit down, it also offers a soft surface to land on. Combining bed rails, bed grab handles, and a floor pad can greatly reduce the fall risk of a disabled person.
People who would benefit the most from padded flooring at the same as those who may need bed rails, especially if the person may have a tendency to roll over the rails or even climb over them against advice. Other people who may benefit are those with sleep disturbances, such as sleep walking, who may trash in their sleep, but who don’t wish to install rails or other preventative measures.
Making the Most of Products & Aids Available
Being disabled can certainly make life a bit more difficult, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t take measures to keep yourself healthy and comfortable. Others may have an easier time with sleeping arrangements, but this doesn’t mean that you have to live a life of limitations—it just means that you may have to do things a little bit differently.
With the help of bedding products like the ones described above, you may find that it’s much easier to live a comfortable life and reduce inconveniences. Sleep is important and central to your well-being, so be sure not to dismiss small discomforts, as they can turn into chronic injuries over time if left unaddressed.