Waterbed Facts - Elderly


Medical care is becoming increasingly costly. One area in which the cost has increased at an alarming rate is that of the nursing home. Nursing home expenses nearly doubled during a five year period from 1975 to 1980. When coupled with our growing aged population, much of which depends on government health benefits, a tremendous burden on health insurance programs and personal income results. Thus, we are experiencing a shift to more home care and support services as a more efficient and cost-effective way of dealing with the elderly.

Not only is home care more economically feasible for patients who are not in need of intensive medical treatment, but it is also generally preferred by the patient. Furthermore, healing takes place more quickly, and rehabilitation is facilitated when the patient is in a comfortable, supportive, home environment.

Special Needs of the Geriatric Patient

In 1982 over twenty-one million citizens of the U.S. were over 65 years of age. This age group will definitely increase in years to come with the modern advances in early diagnosis and proper treatment of high mortality diseases.

Many different afflictions can affect the aged, but several conditions in particular are considered common among geriatric patients. One is a loss of skeletal strength, often the result of mineral loss from the bones or "osteoporosis". Another condition is that of emaciation dure to poor nutrition from an inadequate diet. Circulatory disorders are prevalent. Some geriatrics are likely to have suffered a stroke, affecting awareness and mental capacity, and contributing immobility and incontinence.

Why Use a Waterbed?

If the geriatric patient is bedridden and requires a great deal of nursing attention, using a waterbed rather than a conventional mattress can help greatly to reduce the need for nursing care, and increase the patient's comfort.

Conventional mattresses do not support all parts of the body equally, and therefore the parts in contact with the mattress bear all the weight, causing increased pressure at these points. The tissue becomes compressed; it's vital blood supply is diminished. When this is prolonged the tissue cells die, causing bedsores. To prevent this from taking place, a patient must be turned every two hours to free these areas of pressure and allow fresh blood to supply the tissues.

A waterbed eliminates the need for constant turning of the patient because of the principles of flotation. Pressure points at the vulnerable sections of the body are not created. The patient is uniformly supported, and the formation of bedsores is prevented. This support is also excellent for orthopaedic problems, such as hip surgery and painful arthritic joints. The motion and warmth of the bed soothes and promotes relaxation and better sleep, while general circulation is also improved. Studies have also shown that these patients may need less medication.

How To Recognize Bed Sores.

Usually the first sign is an area of skin redness, which does not blanch (white) with pressure. This is usually due to small blood clots or tissue breakdown.

The second sign is the formation of an inflammation with the possibility of fluid coming from this new injury. This could be a large or small area. The important factor to remember is that this damage may already be irreversible. This will not happen in a healthy individual during sleep or bed rest because they will change position every 20 minutes. However, in the debilitated, elderly individual this protection mechanism may not be available.

Additional Hints For Prevention

  • Keep the skin clean and dry
  • Concentrate on good nutrition and nutritional supplements
  • Maintain a constant vigilance for effects of bed pressures in the skin of paralysed or comatose patients.
  • Avoid wrinkles in the bed sheets. These can aggravate skin problems.
  • Try not to slide the patient across the bed. This is a shearing effect, which may be harmful to the older patient.

Even with the best preventative care, there still may be very few extremely debilitated patients such as those who have nutritional deficiencies, and certain illnesses (e.g. diabetes) who will not respond.

The correct heated waterbeds will provide sufficient support to the geriatrics, to offer adequate movement, protect good circulation, maintain proper gastrointestinal function, help control urinary tract infections and provide for proper kidney drainage.

Wheelchair Cushion

For the wheelchair patient, water cushions are available which have the same pressure-reducing properties of the waterbed, thereby preventing pressure sores on the buttocks.


James A. Lilla, M.D. - Stanford University Medical Centre,
Palo Alto, CA.

"the waterbed is significantly superior to other types of mattresses in reducing surface pressure, especially over bony prominences, in patients who are immobilized".

Donald R. Laub, M.D. - Stanford University Medical Centre,
Palo Alto, CA.

"the waterbed represents an important advance in the care of patients with paraplegia, stroke, spinal cord injury and geriatric problems. In addition, it can be utilized to simplify nursing care and minimize patient discomfort?"

W.A. Kemp - Guy's Hospital, London, England.
"our experience with the (waterbed) has demonstrated that rapid healing (of bedsores) may occur even in the most severe cases with the minimum expenditure of nursing resource, and at the same time the patient's comfort is enhanced".

Boyce, M., M.D.
"A Study of the Use of Flotation mattresses in Treatment of Patients with Chronic Illnesses" - Bay Harbour Hospital, Lomita, California
"orthopaedic, multiple fractures, post-surgical, lumbar spine/disc problems, low back pain, active labour, cancer, post-cardiacs, geriatrics, etc. the use of heated waterbeds in some cases reduced the need of medication, reduced pain, enhanced sleep, and prevented and helped treat bed sores".