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5 Problems with Traditional Bed Alarms

Author: Ariel Chen.

Falling down after getting out of bed is a significant problem for many elderly patients both in hospitals and at home. Despite the widespread acceptance and usage of bed alarms, many studies have found that they are largely ineffective[1] at the prevention of bed falls for a few reasons:

1. Alarm Fatigue

When you hear a car alarm go off, do you immediately think someone is breaking into a car? For most people, the answer is no. False alarms occur so often that most people are desensitized to car alarms, making the alarms ineffective. The same is true for bed exit alarms. Whether in a hospital or in a more personal home environment, false alarms can lead to alarm fatigue. As a result, caregivers may be less inclined to react as promptly as they should when they hear the bed exit alarm. This delayed reaction has no consequences if it was a false alarm, but it can be dangerous when the alarm was truly triggered by a bed exit.

2. False Sense of Security

Bed exit alarms can give caregivers a false sense of security. Caregivers may become less vigilant in monitoring at-risk patients. Proven bed fall prevention procedures are neglected and may even lead to a higher rate of bed falls than before bed alarms were used.

3. Lateness of On/Off Mechanism

Starting from the moment a patient leaves the bed, they are at risk for falling. If the alarm sounds when the patient begins to be at risk, then the caregiver may not be able to reach them in time to prevent a fall. All too often, the period during which the caregiver is hurrying to the patient’s bedside is when bed fall accidents occur, especially if the caregiver is not nearby.

4. Agitates and Startles Patients

Imagine a patient swinging their legs off the bed and preparing to get up, not remembering that an alarm will blare the moment they leave the mattress. The shock of hearing the alarm could cause patients to become off-balance and agitate them in a way that makes them more prone to falling. Additionally, it can create an environment of unease and rob patients of some of their independence and dignity.

5. Interferes with Sleep

The last thing anyone wants to hear is the loud blare of a bed alarm disturbing everyone in the middle of the night. Whether at home or in the hospital, this may happen when false alarms are triggered as patients move around in bed or when a patient gets up to go to the bathroom. Since sleep is valued for recovery, alarms disturbing sleep in the middle of the night is not good for the well-being of those within an audible vicinity. As both scientific[2] and anecdotal evidence suggests[3], traditional bed exit alarms may not be the best way to prevent the all-too-common occurrence of bed falls. Some nursing homes have actually begun initiatives to remove bed alarms[4] to positive effect, instead encouraging more proactive fall prevention procedures such as better patient fall risk assessments and closer monitoring of at-risk patients.









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