Did you know that each year, over 34,000 Australians1 are treated for injuries resulting from a fall that occurred during a hospital stay? Falls are common and serious threats to patient safety, setting back the patient’s recovery and prolonging their time in hospital. Falls and their subsequent injuries are a major risk factor especially for the elderly, who are already frailer and more likely to suffer serious injury from a fall.
Most falls happen in patient rooms and are the result of a patient trying to move from a bed, chair or toilet without adequate assistance. Since hospital staff are busy taking care of multiple patients at any given time, there’s a big risk that a patient will try to get up on their own when they are medicated, injured, or otherwise unable to safely do so by themselves.
To combat this risk, alarm systems such as bed alarms or chair alarms are often used to alert nursing staff when at-risk patients attempt to get up without assistance.
How do bed alarms work?
Bed and chair alarms are devices that contain sensors that trigger an alarm or warning light when they detect a change in pressure. The sensor pads are generally placed either under the shoulder area, or under the hip area, underneath the sheets on the mattress.
The purpose of these alarms is to alert staff to respond quickly and intervene to assist the patient, thus preventing a fall.
There are multiple types of bed alarms, including -
- Motion sensors with in-room exit alarms
- Bed sensor pads with wireless monitors
- Chair sensor pads and exit alarms
- Floor pressure sensor mats
- Room motion monitors
- Pull string alarms
How effective are bed alarms in hospital settings?
It’s important to remember that these systems are only for supporting a fall prevention plan that’s already in place. They are not a substitute for in-person attention, but at-risk patients may benefit from the extra layer of alertness that bed alarms can give.
That being said, bed alarms are not a blanket solution - it’s up to nursing staff to determine the need for a bed alarm on a patient-by-patient basis. The reason for this is because there are both advantages and drawbacks from using a bed alarm, and they must be weighed up to determine whether the patient’s risk profile warrants their use.
As an example, bed alarms are understandably noisy. After all, that’s their purpose! But when you have a patient who tries to ambulate on their own, thus setting off their bed alarm frequently, the noise can disturb other patients nearby. Particularly at night, a bed alarm can interrupt sleep, which is very important for the healing process.
For some patients, the sound of the alarm can be startling or frightening, which theoretically could make them more likely to fall. Other patients might react negatively to having their freedom to move independently restricted (although not physically) by the alarm.
On the flip side, an alarm can remind a cognitively impaired patient (such as someone suffering from mild dementia) that they shouldn’t attempt to get up on their own. It might even remind patients to use their call button and wait for a nurse instead.
Because nursing staff are so busy and the decision to move from the chair or bed is often a split-second decision, bed alarms do give staff the information they need to quickly attend to a patient when they need it. But naturally, the effectiveness of the alarm is only as good as the staff responding to it. So, it’s important to make sure your staff understand the rapid response necessary when the alarm goes off.
The good news is that bed alarms can come in a variety of styles and functions. It’s possible to program some types of alarms to only make a noise in the nurse’s station, not the patient’s bed. At the end of the day, although a bed alarm will not physically stop a patient from falling, an alarm is likely to help prevent a fall for a large percentage of at-risk patients, particularly those who are slow-moving or frail. Even the faster-moving patients can benefit from an alarm if their bed is situated near the nurse’s station and therefore closer to help when it’s needed.
Once again, it’s up to the hospital staff to adequately assess the patient’s risk profile in addition to the surrounding environment and make the decision about when a bed alarm is necessary. In a perfect world, hospitals could put an attendant at the side of each patient 24/7, making bed alarms unnecessary, but unfortunately hospitals do not have the resources to do so. So, bed alarms are therefore a simple, low-cost intervention that can serve as an early warning system and help prevent the fall before it occurs.
Where to find more information
Keystone Healthcare offer a range of fall prevention safety equipment and devices, including a variety of bed and chair alarms. To discuss your facility’s needs, contact our friendly team on 1300 547 877.