“Positional asyphxia” is a fancy term for a terrible, but preventable, problem. Positional asphyxia, is also known as postural asphyxia, is a form of asphyxia which occurs when someone’s position prevents them from breathing adequately. In the nursing home setting, this life-threatening problem is more frequent due to the use of bedrails.

A recent example of this type of danger to nursing home residents comes from New York. A 83 year old resident with end-stage dementia slept in a bed with bedrails, with no monitors. One night the resident slid out of bed and became entrapped between the bed and bedrail. She suffocated after her face became pressed against the mattress.

Nursing homes and hospitals have been on notice of the dangers of bedrails for years. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published warnings of these dangers to healthcare providers in 2006. The warning stated in part the:

FDA has received hundreds of reports of deaths and injuries that occurred when hospital and nursing home patients were trapped in beds with side rails. These entrapments can occur in a number of ways – for example, through the bars of a side rail, through the space between split side rails, or between the bed rail and the mattress, headboard, or footboard. Most of these incidents occurred with patients who were frail, elderly or confused.

My Take: If bedrails are being used by a facility taking care of your loved one, make sure a doctor has closely assessed the situation and ordered the use of bedrails….as nursing homes often use bedrails as a way of keeping the residents confined. Secondly, even if the doctor has ordered the use of bedrails, make certain the nursing staff has correctly assembled the bedrails, bed frame, and mattress, and knows how to use them safely.

Dan Frith
Dan Frith

Dan Frith has over 25 years of experience representing individuals and families in cases of medical malpractice throughout Virginia. He has been named "Best Medical Malpractice Attorney" by Roanoker Magazine and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. To speak with Dan, contact him by email at