Would Bed Rails for Elderly Help my Parent Get into Bed Unassisted?

by Beverly

My 87 yr. old mother has no problem getting up and out of bed but when she tries to get back up into it she has tremendous difficulty.

She doesn't have much upper body strength either so can't just lay back then pull her legs up. She has a lot of pain in her legs every day and she uses a walker now to get around.

Any helpful suggestions would be most appreciated! Thank-you!

REPLY from Caring-for-Aging-Parents.com
Moving into and out of bed can be quite difficult for the elderly due to common elderly health problems such as decreased strength and pain. It is often the case that going one way (into or out of bed) can be harder than the other.

Bed rails for elderly might be a good solution but there are a few other things to think about first.

Beverly, I will go through some general considerations first, then will give you some specific suggestions for your elderly mother on an attached comment below.

  1. Bed Height

    A good starting point for bed height to make getting into and out of bed easier is usually with the bed 1-2 inches higher than the knee crease with feet flat on the floor (with shoes off).

    Is the bed too high? Often a bed might be too high with the situation you've described above (elderly parent can easily get up but has difficulty getting back into bed).

    Your mother can get up easily. If I were assessing her, I would see how she manages to get from lying to sitting as this can a difficult part of getting out of the bed.

    She may pull on the covers or a piece of furniture, or she may have good abdominal strength though her shoulder/arm strength are poor.

    It is always easier to get off of a higher surface. This is great, unless getting back in is a problem!

    I would try lowering the bed height first to see if this helps. Some of the following work for trying this out (without having to make permanent changes):
    • remove the wheels
    • take off the bed frame
    • take out the boxspring
    • take off the mattress topper or pillow top (if possible)

    Once you do this, it's important to see if this helps your loved one get into bed more easily. If so, great! But also check to make sure they can still easily get out of bed before making a permanent adjustment (such as replacing the bed completely).

    Now sometimes these adjustments might make the bed too low (for example, taking a whole box spring out can really change the bed height).

    Is the bed too low? If your elderly parent is sitting on the side of the bed and having to take several tries to get themselves up, yanking on their walker for help or pulling awkwardly on the dresser to get up - the bed height is probably too low.

    In this case, I would try to get the bed height similar to the starting point described above and try again.

    If the bed is simply too low from the start, consider bed risers (can be purchased at most medical supply stores or on-line) or other ways of increasing bed height.

  2. Decreased Strength and/or Flexibility combined with Pain

    Decreased strength and flexibility, along with painful areas, are common elderly health problems. Trying to understand where the body is particularly weak or painful may help.

    For example, with your elderly mother, you describe she is weak in her upper extremity (shoulders, arms) and has painful legs. Yet she still manages to get from lying to sitting without difficulty.

    This may indicate she still has fair or good abdominal strength or she has some good tricks up her sleeve for this part of the movement.

    For your elderly mother, bed rails for elderly or a transfer pole might not work (both are usually more helpful for seniors who rely on their upper extremity strength to move themselves around). So, starting with adjusting the bed height is likely better.

    Considering the pain she has in her legs PLUS her poor arm strength, I can see how her laying back into bed THEN trying to lift her legs into bed wouldn't work for her either.

    I'm always a fan of trying to improve strength in the elderly - exercise is really the best thing for people as they age. It helps to ward off many elderly diseases, improves strength and flexibility and even maintains better brain health.

    For information, Exercises for the Elderly.

  3. Equipment for Seniors

    If the bed height change didn't fix things up and your elderly parent isn't Popeye yet, it's time to consider some equipment for seniors.

    Not all of these will work for all people. I will list the ones I know but my favorites are bed rails and transfer poles.

    The problem of leg pain and getting those darn legs into bed is a bit tougher. The solutions I've seen are using a leg lifter, using the top of a cane or getting home care for the elderly to help seniors into and out of bed. Hospital adjustable beds can work too.

    I have seen a mechanical leg lifter on the internet that I will describe below that seems great (though pricey) but I have not had the opportunity to try it with any seniors yet as they are not yet a mainstream item.

    The following may assist your elderly parent with getting into or out of bed:
    • Leg Lifter: these are simple devices that are a piece of metal (usually) about the length of your leg with a loop on the end. Your aging parent will put the cloth loop around their leg or legs and pull with their arms or use the weight of their body to lean back and pull their leg onto the bed. The knee is usually locked during this motion. They aren't the easiest to use though I've seen some elderly use them quite effectively, especially after hip or knee replacement surgery. Using this device well often requires good overall body movement or good upper extremity strength.
    • Folding Cane: a folding cane can be turned upside down and used much like the leg lifter. The senior hooks their foot on the folding cane handle (the old wooden styles don't usually work as they slip - a straight handle with a foam grip works best for this) and pulls their leg up as with the leg lifter. I have only seen this work well for a handful of people.
    • Bed Rails for Elderly: bed rails for elderly are very handy for helping people to get into bed, out of bed and move around in bed. Though some upper extremity strength is needed, bed rails for elderly will often even help seniors with poor arm/shoulder strength. I have had a lot of success helping seniors continue to get into and out of bed unassisted with bed rails over the years. The only problem is they will not help get painful legs into bed more easily.
    • Transfer Pole: A transfer pole (otherwise know as a floor-to-ceiling pole) can be installed near the head of the bed to help a person into and out of bed. These are also most helpful for seniors with good upper extremity strength who really like to pull up to get into standing. They can also be used for moving from lying to sitting. If installed properly, they are very sturdy and quite helpful. You can also get them with a "horizontal bar" that can help people into sitting or during sitting to standing.
    • Hospital Adjustable Bed: A hospital adjustable bed can help people get into and out of bed more easily. "Fully electric" versions come with the ability to raise and lower the whole bed. This can be very helpful for elderly that need different heights for getting out of bed and getting into bed. It also might help someone who has difficulty getting their legs into bed as it may go low enough to make this movement easier. The "head up" option can make moving from lying to sitting (and vice versa) easier. I would strongly recommend trying a hospital adjustable bed out with your elderly parent prior to purchase as they are quite expensive.
    • Over-the-bed Trapeze: These devices can be installed so that a triangle or bar hangs down over the senior's head. I have seen seniors with good upper extremity strength use these to help move from lying to sitting (and vice versa). They are another option that works well for some seniors.
    • Bed Ladder: A bed ladder is usually a cloth device that is attached to the end of the bed with cloth rungs that allow the person to use their upper extremity strength to pull themselves upright one rung at a time. I have not used them successfully with more than a few seniors and do not find them particularly helpful.
    • Mechanical Leg Lifter: As I mentioned, I have not had the chance to try one of these and have just seen them on the internet (the ones I have seen originated from the UK or Australia). They may work very well for people who have difficulty getting their legs into bed independently. They are expensive but may be worth it if a senior can remain at home alone (if they prefer this to having home care for the elderly to help them into and out of bed).

      If you or your loved one have tried one of these, please do comment below and let us know how it works and what you think!

Thank you for this question, Beverly. I hope this information and the suggestions below in the comment are helpful.

Add your own comment once you've tried a few options out and let us know what worked for your elderly mother!!

Other visitors, please let us know what works for your aging parent.

Thank you,

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adjust the height
by: balu

Apart from bed rails, I would suggest you to make the height of the bed such that she can just sit on it and lie down. The height should not be too low or too high. This will be much more helpful that bed rails I guess. for more details

Ideas specifically for Beverly's elderly mother
by: Tennille

So, Beverly, with what you've described of your elderly mother, I would consider trying the following (in order, hopefully step 1 works and you don’t have to try any of the other suggestions):

1. Changing the bed height as described in the main answer to this question

2. Bed rail. I know your elderly mother’s upper extremity strength isn’t great but a bed rail may still work for her (and may help with the swinging motion of getting her legs into bed). It is a lower cost solution to try before moving to any of the following. You can often borrow a bed rail from a local non-profit equipment loan depot such as the Red Cross or ask a medical supplier to bring one to the home to try out before buying.

3. Hospital adjustable bed with the low bed height fully-adjustable option. Try this out in a store first as it’s a large investment to make without being sure it will work.

4. Mechanical leg lifter. Though I can’t give you a recommendation based on having used them professionally, they certainly look like a good solution for difficulty getting painful legs or legs with poor mobility into bed. The only drawback is they are pricey and you may not be able to use them prior to ordering them on the internet. Check the suppliers to see if they have a return warranty if they do not work for your elderly mother.

Another Option:
Home care for the elderly. If your elderly mother is agreeable and this is an affordable option for her, home care for the elderly in the morning and evening to help her out of and into bed might be beneficial for her.

And of course, I am always a fan of trying to improve general elderly health through elderly nutrition or exercises for the elderly. Please refer to the pages on our website for more details.

Thanks again for the question,

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