Our bodies did not evolve to remain motionless for extended periods. Long-term bed rest is unavoidable for some patients, but the health consequences can be severe without care and treatment. In some cases, the damage is permanent.
In this article, we look at some of the health implications of long-term bed rest and offer suggestions to help caregivers and bedridden patients to limit the impact of long-term bed rest.
Bedsores—also known as pressure sores and decubitus sores—are ulcers that form when part of the body experiences pressure for too long. Unlike healthy people, who change positions often, bedridden patients may remain in the same position for an extended period. They put vulnerable parts of the body under constant pressure, blocking the small blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients. Eventually, the underlying tissues are damaged. An open wound forms, which may become infected.
In the U.S., 60,000 people die of bedsores and related complications each year. Caregivers should understand the risks and do what they can to prevent the formation of bedsores. Bedridden patients should regularly move into new positions, and their position should be managed to reduce the exposure of vulnerable areas to excessive pressure.
Adjustable home hospital beds are equipped with motorized adjustments that make it easier to reposition patients. Hospital bed mattresses are designed to distribute pressure more evenly than consumer mattresses. For patients who already have bedsores, pressure relief mattresses offer automatic lateral rotation that continuously adjusts pressure levels and promotes healing.
Contractures are deformities caused by stiffness in the flexible tissues that allow joints to move. They can occur in any connective tissue, including muscles, ligaments, and tendons. A patient suffering from a contraction may experience painful stiffness and struggle to move their limbs or straighten their fingers.
The most common cause of contracture is inactivity: tissues stiffen when they are not used. Contractures are a common side-effect of long-term bed rest, and they can be impossible to reverse if they aren’t treated promptly.
Exercise is the best antidote to contracture. Exercise is challenging for bedridden patients, but they should be encouraged to exercise gently while in bed. To learn more about exercising while bedridden, read 5 Exercises to Do From Your Home Hospital Bed.
Deconditioning, also known as deconditioning syndrome, is a general term for the loss of muscle strength, decreased bone mass, and reduced mobility that often follows a long period in hospital. It is often accompanied by respiratory and cardiac problems, reduced functioning of the gastrointestinal system, and incontinence.
Even a short hospital stay can cause significant reductions in mobility and strength, and the older a patient is, the more quickly deconditioning sets in. Studies show that elderly patients can lose 2–5 percent of their muscle strength each day.
The most effective way to combat deconditioning is to get out of bed and move around. This is why medical professionals encourage patients to return to regular activity as soon as possible. If that’s not possible, in-bed exercises are essential, as we mentioned in the previous section.
Hypotension is low blood pressure. If you spend a long time on bed rest, the systems your body uses to regulate blood pressure can stop working correctly. For example, when you sit up from lying down, blood is redistributed from the upper body to the lower body. Your nervous system ensures that blood pressure is maintained. However, after a long time in bed, this system doesn’t work as well, leading to positional hypotension. When you sit up, your blood pressure drops rapidly, often leading to falls and fainting.
Hypotension isn’t the only way bedrest hurts the cardiovascular system: it can also lead to decreased heart function and deep vein thrombosis.
Swelling happens when fluids are trapped in the body’s tissues. The medical name is edema. Bedridden patients are particularly prone to dependent edema, which is swelling caused by gravity. They often experience swelling in the buttocks and lower limbs. The ideal treatment is to get out of bed, but edema can also be controlled by elevating the affected area with a home hospital bed’s adjustments and wearing compression stockings.
It may seem unhelpful to say getting out of bed is the best treatment for the consequences of long-term bed rest, but it is true nevertheless. The conditions we have described here can all be avoided with exercise and mobility.
However, if bed rest in unavoidable, home hospital beds, pressure relief mattresses, and an in-bed exercise plan make a massive difference to the patients’ health, quality of life, and recovery time. To learn more about how our adjustable beds and mattresses help bedridden patients contact us today to talk to a home hospital bed expert.
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