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Mattresses & Bedding For People With Disabilities

Complete mattress and bedding product guide to help people with disabilities sleep comfortably
Andy David
Written by Andy DavidUpdated August 2019

Quick Overview

If you are disabled or a caretaker of a disabled person, it can sometimes be frustrating to find equipment to solve the daily living challenges you face. This includes being able to get into and out of bed, being able to sleep soundly, or being able to stay in bed without rolling and falling off the mattress.

The purpose of this guide is to help you make the right choices so that your sleeping arrangements become more comfortable and safe. We have introduced several bedding products to make life that little bit easier.

Below, we take a look at some of the most useful bedding and mattress products available on the market.

Alternative Bed Types

Sometimes conventional beds won’t work for one reason or another. But alternatives can help disabled people live and sleep more comfortably.

Adjustable Bed

Adjustable beds come in a range of different styles and mechanisms
Adjustable mattress – the mattress changes positions to suit your needs
Some adjustable beds use a frame to move the mattress into the right position

Adjustable beds come in many shapes and forms. But their main draw is to help people with limited mobility. An adjustable bed allows the user to achieve the ideal body position with minimal effort. They can be set flat for sleep or moved into many other incline positions. All this can be achieved using a simple remote control.

Easier to get out of bed – A key benefit of adjustable beds is that they make getting into and out of bed easier. 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.

Feet elevation – 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. When the legs are lifted above the heart, blood drains back into the body. Many people also use an elevated feet position for pain relief and injury recovery.

Pain relief – If body position is important and there is a need to switch without much physical effort, an adjustable bed is a worthwhile 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. For people with a back injury, the different positions available can help the user find a comfortable, pain-free way to sleep.

Turning Bed

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 develop from being in the same position for hours on end. But a lot of disabled people cannot properly move into a new position. A turning bed is one solution to minimize bedsores and other medical problems.

Reduction in bedsores – The main benefit of turning beds is a reduction in bedsores. Since these beds tilt from side to side at certain intervals, the person can roll over automatically. This relieves pressure and reduces the possibility of bedsores significantly.

Individual control – Turning beds can 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 every time they start to experience pressure and discomfort.

Automatic control – Many of these beds can be programmed to turn automatically at set times. This can work well for those with back pain or extremely limited muscle tone. Even if a person has a tendency to slip in and out of consciousness and isn’t aware enough to control the bed manually, they can still benefit.

Editor’s 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 research into the supplier’s business operations before considering any purchase.

http://www.pro-bed.com/

http://www.carelincmed.com/?i=HOSPITALBEDS

Low Profile Bed

A low profile bed has a lower height than standard beds. The specific height of the bed can vary. But usually, they will lay less than 10 inches (25 cm) above the ground. They are often adjustable in height – similar to the kind one may find in hospitals. This allows people with limited mobility to get into and out of bed more safely.

Injury prevention – The major benefit of low profile beds is injury prevention. If the sleeper accidentally falls out of the bed, with only a few inches of distance, the impact is quite low. This is especially the case if other safety measures are taken into account, such as floor pads.

Less joint fatigue – Another benefit of a low profile bed is that it can reduce the impact on the joints. Beds that are too high place more stress when “landing” on the floor. A low profile allows for a slow descent, as well as close to no effort when crawling into bed.

Good for shorter people – Low profile beds are useful for those who have shorter body frames combined with limited mobility. They are also suitable for people who toss and turn during the night but cannot afford to fall for fear of injury.

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 for the differently-abled:

Memory Foam Bed

Memory foam was first developed to cushion those who would be experiencing excessive G-forces, such as astronauts. But nowadays many people 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.

Pressure relief – One of the main benefits of memory foam mattresses is that they reduce pressure points. The sleeper doesn’t need to roll around as much to get comfortable. This not only enhances the quality of sleep, but it can reduce pain, especially in the hips, elbows, and shoulders.

Bedsore relief – For bed-ridden people, memory foam can also help reduce the possibility of bedsores. Unlike traditional innerspring beds, memory foam applies less pressure to the body and minimizes the likelihood of sores and similar problems.

Back pain relief – Memory foam mattresses have benefits even for non-disabled people. But they are particularly useful for those who experience back pain. Especially back pain sufferers who spend lots of time in bed. Memory foam supports and cradles the body, making it ideal for people who cannot sleep on either firm or soft traditional mattresses.

Extra-Firm Mattresses

Soft mattresses can cause back pain because they don’t offer the support some people need. This is especially the case with people of heavy body weights. Extra-firm beds are designed to stop the body from sinking too far down. This keeps the spine aligned and avoids the “hammock” effect that can lead to back pain.

Firm back support – The main advantage of extra-firm mattresses is solid support. Firmer mattresses help to keep the body from falling into awkward positions. Most soft mattresses will sag over time. Any dips in the material can lead to back pain. This is why some people need an extra-firm bed.

Improved sleep quality – Another benefit of extra-firm mattresses is a deeper, fuller rest. Because people are less likely to fall into awkward positions during the night, the sleep quality can be greatly improved. Sleepers often have more energy the following day thanks to better spinal alignment.

Chronic back pain relief – 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 work well for both lower and upper back pain. However, it is heavier individuals who often find extra-firm mattresses most beneficial.

Waterproof Mattresses

As annoying for the person as it can be, certain disabilities result in a person being unable to hold their urine during the night. This can lead to a ruined mattress over time. While diapers can be helpful to a degree, with unconscious moving around, leaks are likely to happen at one point. Using a waterproof mattress can go a long way to making cleanup easier, and also protect against various other body fluids.

Longer lasting mattress – Since urine cannot soak into the sponge, the mattress will last much longer. It can also withstand accidental spills much better. Cleaning up a waterproof mattress is far easier and more hygienic. This is important to maintain the health and well-being of people with disabilities.

Mattress smells better – A waterproof mattress also tends to smell better because it does not accumulate urine. This keeps the area fresh, even if the sleeper is severely incontinent and regularly voids on the mattress. While some protection from this can be provided by draping a normal mattress in waterproof pads, there is always the possibility of leakage. That is unless the mattress is inherently waterproof.

Extra Support

Many times, standard mattresses are not enough to give the required amount of support. Especially if the sleeper remains in the same position for a long period. Below are some accessories to improve the support of mattresses.

Mattress Elevator

Mattress elevators come in different shapes and thicknesses. But basically they serve as a way to tilt parts of a mattress up to provide the ideal angle for the user. Often they are wedge-shaped and placed directly beneath the mattress. They can be made of various materials, especially metal.

Elevate the feet – Mattress elevators are commonly used to lift the feet above the heart. This can help people who have circulation issues, or those attempting to reduce swelling. Individuals with injuries to the legs can also benefit from this type of elevation.

Easier to sit up – Another common way to use mattress elevators is by wedging them near the upper body of the user. This allows the sleeper to sit up in bed more comfortable. While adjustable bases can also be used for this purpose, people with short-term conditions may choose a mattress elevator to save money.

More affordable – 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 recovery.

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.

Better neck alignment – Neck support pillows keep the sleeper from defaulting to an awkward neck position. This helps to keep the spine aligned. In the long run, this leads to a healthier back and neck, which can help keep the sleeper more mobile.

Improved sleep quality – This type of pillow can promote a long, comfortable sleep with fewer interruptions. Good sleep is essential for health, especially for those who suffer from disabilities. A memory foam neck pillow can also reduce pressure and the need for the sleeper to move around. This is ideal for when the person is disabled and often needs assistance to turn over.

Suitable for all people – 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 useful because they help to align the spine.

Body Pillows

Many people benefit from full size body pillows
Body pillows come in a range of sizes

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. The user can cling to them and rest part of their weight on its cushioning.

Less strain on the joints – Body pillows help to relieve strain on joints by avoiding awkward sleeping positions. On a flat mattress, the hips, shoulders, and elbows can sink into the bed, causing aches and pains. This is especially the case on traditional innerspring mattresses.

Better relaxation – The extra support a body pillow provides gives sleepers better relaxation. Since less tension is needed to keep the body in a certain position, this can promote deeper sleep. Having something to hold onto also helps sleepers de-stress and feel more secure during the night.

Sleep in the same position – Body pillows are a great accessory for those who are too disabled to roll around into different positions during the night. A body pillow enables the user to stay in a supportive position without compromising comfort. It can also benefit those who are injured, or those that must sleep in a certain position due to disability or other medical conditions.

Lifting Yourself

Many people simply don’t have the mobility to get into and out of bed on their own without help. But there are some products available that can increase independence and help users get into and out of bed without the need for human assistance.

Bed Grab Handles

Attached to the side of the bed and used to ‘lift off' the mattress

Just as handles exist on disabled walkways and in some restrooms, there are similar products that can be installed on the frames of beds. Many times they can be installed using standard tools to a pre-existing bed frame. And they often take the form of a rail or a pole.

Easier to get into bed – These kinds of grab handles make it much easier to slide into and out of bed, even if the user has limited balance. It can also provide extra support if the person has difficulty adjusting their position. This is important for sleepers with disabilities who often struggle with such tasks.

Getting to and from a wheelchair – Grab handles can also be useful when ascending or descending to a wheelchair. It can reduce the effort that a caretaker must make when moving someone who has limited mobility. And it can also allow the user to leverage their strength to assist safely.

Good option for the elderly – 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.

Bed Hand Block

Look similar to ‘pushup devices' sold in fitness stores
Bed hand blocks are often sold in pairs

A bed hand block is 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.

Helps with joint injuries – Hand blocks can be particularly helpful to those with joint injuries, especially in the wrists. Rather than having to bend the wrist to lift the body, users can keep the hand and arm aligned for a much stronger grip and position. This lessens the pain and helps to minimize injury.

Easier to lift the body – Another common use of hand blocks is for those instances when the user needs to only lift their buttocks from the bed. For example, to allow a bedpan to slide underneath, or to allow a caretaker to clean up the result of any incontinence without the user having to leave the bed.

For people who lack coordination – 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 a hand block extremely useful.

Bed Steps

Bed steps can make the trip to and from bed easier for those who have difficulty lifting their legs high. Especially if the person has a high profile bed. When combined with bed grab handles, bed steps can reduce injury for those who are less mobile.

Smooth transition from bed to floor – The main benefit of bed steps is that they make the transition from the bed to the floor smoother. Many times disabled or elderly individuals lack the flexibility to raise their knees high enough to climb onto the bed. But bed steps can also be useful for people with low body height.

Helps to prevent falling – Bed steps can prevent falling by providing a slower descent, as well and reducing the impact on the joints. With steps, the user can pace themselves a lot more. And to a lesser extent, they are also a convenient way to allow pets or small children to join the disabled person on the bed.

Good for injury reduction – People who are prone to injury from sudden movements or who are easily prone to falling may find bed steps useful. Those with knee injuries or arthritis of the knees may also find bed steps beneficial. This is because it can often be easier to take small steps rather than one big step to climb down from the bed.

Bed Rope Ladder Pulls

Valuable aid to move around and pull yourself up

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, while the other end sits near the sleeper. 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.

Good for those with injuries – A rope ladder pull can make it easier to move around for those with injuries that prevent them from being able to lift themselves up. If the user’s upper body muscles are weak or disabled – such as the triceps – or the wrist joints suffer from chronic pain, being able to pull oneself out of bed rather than push can make all the difference. Besides, pulling oneself up is a more gradual process, and may help prevent sudden reductions in blood pressure.

Works for changing positions – 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 or regain comfort after being lied in one position.

Avoiding Injury

For people who are disabled, injuries can be much more disastrous. Especially for people who live alone and may not be able to call upon immediate help. The best approach is to try to avoid injury as much as possible in the first place.

Headboard Pads

Most headboards are extremely hard, and even many able-bodied people will unwittingly injure themselves during the night. 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 to protect the sleeper from injury.

Good for involuntary movements – 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 movements that could launch them up into the headboard.

Recommended for bed-ridden people – When a bed-ridden person sits up, they may have an unconscious tendency to lean or rest 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.

Bed Rails

Bed rails keep you from falling out of bed and safe from potentially injuries
Full length and half length bed rails are the most common

Just as headboards are hard, so are floors. Someone who is not aware of their constant moving or who is unable to control their muscles due to a disability may fall from the bed. That is 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 miscalculate the bed’s size.

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. This can be the case even if they aren’t injured. Bed rails help to avoid this problem altogether.

For the elderly and disabled – Bed rails can protect people from injury. Especially those with weak bones that are easily prone to breaking, such as the elderly. But the rails are equally useful for people with a variety of disabilities. If a person cannot afford to fall from a bed and will likely suffer dire consequences, some degree of confinement may be necessary.

Fold up, fold down, and lock – 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. Some bed rails allow the sleeper or caretaker to fold up, fold down, and lock the rail in place. This provides good flexibility for many types of user.

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. Similar to headboards, users may unknowingly crash against them in their sleep.

Prevent injury – Bed rail pads prevent self-injury if the user often tosses and turns in their sleep. One should especially consider adding padding to a rail if it has any pointy edges or other exposed hardware. These are often the cause of minor injuries.

Stop bruising and scratches – Bed rail pads are great for people who are prone to bruising and knock against the sides of the bed. Elderly and disabled people who don’t heal well from minor injuries could greatly benefit from this enhanced protection.

Good for extra support – If the user is prone to rolling around and falling asleep in awkward positions, the padding of the rail can serve as an added cushion of support. Rather than resting against a metal rail, softer padding can enhance the sleep quality for longer, aiding disabled or elderly people to recover more effectively.

Floor Pads

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.

While a low profile bed can certainly help to 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. 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.

People who would benefit the most from padded flooring are the same as those who may need bed rails. Especially if the person tends to roll over the rails or even climb over them against advice. Other people who may benefit are those with sleep disturbances, such as sleepwalking, but who don’t wish to install rails or other preventative measures.

Great value protection – Ideally, they would not be necessary. But they are relatively inexpensive and can potentially protect against catastrophic injury. Especially for people who cannot heal well, such as those of advanced age. They are usually made of foam or other soft materials. Different sizes and thicknesses are available.

Easier to get out of bed – 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. 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.

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.