Deaths between bedrails and air pressure mattresses

Steven H. Miles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVES: To describe how patients die by becoming trapped between therapeutic air pressure mattresses and bed rails. DESIGN: A retrospective review of all voluntary reports deaths in beds with air mattresses that can be found in the Food and Drug Administration's on-line databases of adverse medical events that cover 1994 to 2001. SETTING: Death reports come from manufacturers, medical staff, and coroners and describe deaths in hospitals, nursing homes, and home care, although type of care site is often not given. MEASUREMENTS: Event descriptions were reviewed to determine how the person became entrapped in the rail and how responsibility for the event was allocated. RESULTS: There were 35 deaths involving many product lines. Twenty-one deaths involved overlay air mattresses placed on top of a regular mattress. Thirteen patients died in beds with built-in air mattresses. Compression of the mattress allowed an off-center person to slide against the rail where reexpansion of the mattress kept the person compressed against the rail. Two patterns were seen. In one, the mattress bunched up behind a person who was lying on the side of the bed, pushing the neck against a bedrail. In the second type, a patient died after sliding off the bed and having the neck or chest compressed between the rail and bed. Manufacturers attributed the deaths to poor clinical decision-making or inadequate monitoring. CONCLUSIONS: Lethal asphyxiation in beds with air pressure mattresses is a variant of bedrail-mattress entrapment that requires redesign by bed manufacturers and risk awareness by clinicians.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1124-1125
Number of pages2
JournalJournal of the American Geriatrics Society
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2002


  • Adverse medical events
  • Beds
  • Mattress
  • Restraint physical


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