Alternating Pressure Mattress Reviews. Expert Buying Guide
The right alternating pressure mattress system is the one that meets a person's healthcare, personal, and lifestyle needs. With so many alternating pressure mattress systems available, knowing which one to buy can be very confusing. The lack of information and the abundance of misinformation on the web complicates the decision. Paid bloggers rather than industry professionals write much of the information on the web. Unfortunately, even most medical dealers and healthcare professionals don't understand the differences. So I'm here to share reviews, insights, and learnings from 25 years of industry experience. I will cover the various types of mattresses, their features, and which would be the best to find for you.
There is much to cover. However, I will summarize the bullets with a brief explanation and then provide links to additional details should you wish to know more.
What is Alternating Pressure?
For those with limited mobility, an open wound, or are at high risk of skin breakdown, alternating pressure promotes wound healing. Medical professionals recommend an alternating pressure low air loss mattress to prevent and treat wounds. Alternating pressure therapy mattresses use alternating air pressure to relieve pressure and improve blood flow. Low Air Loss therapy helps to control heat and moisture. For more detailed information see How An Alternating Pressure Mattress Helps to Heal Wounds.
It's All About You!
The alternating air mattress system has to match your needs. The list below is meant to start the conversation or search. Here are a few variables to take into consideration.
- Mobility - The ability to move?
- Weight - Approximate weight is a very important factor.
- Height - This factors into body shape and what mattress weight capacity one should look for.
- Diagnosis - This helps gain an understanding of the challenges and limitations.
- Location of skin breakdown or concern
- How severe is the bedsore aka Stage - Stage is a wound rating. See explanation
- History of previous pressure ulcers - Understand the level of risk
- Patient position - This is important to understand
- Pain level and location
- Patient Safety - Is there a fall risk, or patient transfers
- Availability to care - Independence vs automation
- Bed transfers and care - Assisted or solo transfers
- Long term prognosis - Understanding of future needs
Use the information above to guide your internet search. When speaking with a professional, if they are not addressing these types of questions, they can not properly advise you. If you need advice or have questions, contact a wound care professional or product specialist.
Are there Differences between Alternating Pressure Low Air Loss Mattresses?
You Betcha! There are many alternating pressure low air loss mattress systems available. They vary greatly in feature, function, benefit, and use. Significant quality and functionality differences separate them. These differences not only affect reliability but how effective the mattress is at prevention and healing.
Features to Look for in an Alternating Pressure Low Air Loss Mattress.
I will break this list down based on what to consider in therapy, features, and function. Items that are a must are in BOLD.
- Alternating Pressure - Redistributes Pressure & Improves Blood flow
- Low Air Loss - Low Air Loss & True Low Air Loss. These help to control heat and moisture build-up and create a micro-climate. The latest therapeutic mattress advance is Enhanced Low Air Loss Therapy.
- Pulsation - Special therapy sometimes used in hospitals. Not available in most systems.
Mattress & Cover Features
- CPR Valve - Quick air release valve for CPR to begin
- Mattress Thickness - 8" or more
- Weight Capacity - Some are much better than others at supporting weight. Many manufacturers overstate their weight capacity. SEE WEIGHT CAPACITY BELOW.
- Mattress Widths - 36, 42, 48, are common but some manufacturers such as Blue Chip Medical build custom mattress widths, lengths & weight capacities
- Bladder Material - Self-Sealing "TPU" is better than vinyl
- Number of bladders - Usually 16 or more horizontal bladders
- Bladder Orientation - Horizontal or Vertical
- Hose Material - Non-kinking improves function and reliability especially when the head of the bed in inclined
- Base - Air or Foam base to prevent bottoming out
- Cover material - Low Shear, Low Friction, Anti-Microbial, Fluid Proof
- Low Air Loss Ventilation - Built into the bladder or the latest advance, Enhanced Low Air Loss Built into the Cover. There are numerous benefits to systems with enhanced low air loss.
- Heel Bladder Section - Special heel bladders to prevent heel ulcers
- Side Rail Safety - Optional foam or air side bolsters for patient safety and that meet entrapment standards.
- Modes - Alternating, Static, Pulsation - Static Mode is essential for safe transfer and patient care
- Pump Volume - Higher volume pumps support more weight, fill faster and help allow for better function when the bed's inclined. SEE "PUMP TYPE" BELOW.
- Cycle Time - Adjustable times may have some benefit
- Caregiver Alarms - Alert caregiver of a malfunction
- Comfort Adjustment - Adjustable comfort is essential, but this is where a high-quality system is superior. SEE "WHAT MAKES SOME ALTERNATING PRESSURE LOW AIR LOSS MATTRESSES MORE COMFORTABLE AND EFFECTIVE THAN OTHERS" BELOW
- Safety Features - Fallback features to prevent patient injury
- Automatic Fowler Functions - adjusts mattress pressures based on the incline of the bed.
- Auto-Firm - Allows for quick fill
- Serviceability & Parts
- History of reliability
- Medicare Coded
- History of use in hospital's or institutions
- Import or Made in the US
The Mattress Weight Capacity is Not What it Seems
Manufacturers of 36" alternating pressure mattress systems state a maximum weight capacity of between 350 - 400 lbs. In many cases this is inaccurate. The best you can hope for from imported or sub $1,000 36" alternating pressure mattress systems is about 250 lbs. weight capacity. In addition, many of these systems last less than a year. With lower quality systems many people sink into their mattress and are very uncomfortable especially when sitting up.
Body shape factors into the decision of weight capacity requirements. If a person is 5' 10" and weighs 200 lbs, their weight is distributed over the frame of their body. But what if that person is 4' 10" and 200 lbs. The weight is highly concentrated and the person of shorter stature may require a mattress that can support a higher weight.
The air volume, pump type, quality of the pump parts and mattress, and the mattress width determine the weight capacity.
- Compressor - Supports 350 lbs in a 36" mattress, 550lbs in a 42" mattress, and up to 750 lbs in a 48" mattress. Pro: Lower Cost, Very Quiet, Cooler running.
- Blower - Supports 650 lbs in a 36" mattress, 800 lbs in a 42" mattress, and up to 1,000 lbs in a 48" mattress. Pro: Supports higher weights, offers true low air loss
What is a Bariatric Alternating Pressure Low Air Loss Mattress?
A mattress with the ability to support more than 350 lbs is bariatric. You can find compressor-based bariatric mattress systems in 42" 48". They are also available in custom sizes. Blower-based bariatric alternating pressure mattress systems in 36", 42", and 48".
What makes some alternating pressure low air loss mattress systems more comfortable and effective than others?
It's a fact. Even though all mattress systems feature comfort controls, some mattress systems are more comfortable and more effective than others. Why? Many alternating pressure mattress systems these days have cheap, inferior pump parts that control the comfort and therapy of the mattress. I have spoken with many people complaining of extreme discomfort or skin breakdown from these lower-quality systems.
The most common complaint is that there is virtually no difference between the lowest and highest comfort setting. This essentially treats a 100 lb person as if they are 250 lbs - 350 lbs. Lighter weight people complain the mattress is too hard, while heavier people sink into the mattress. In a number of cases, people have encountered skin breakdown due to the mattress.
There is a new breed of alternating pressure mattress that is shown to have the most control over comfort. While other systems achieve low air loss via lasered holes in the air bladders that constantly leak air, this new breed achieves Enhanced Low Air Loss through the cover. This means the air bladders are sealed allowing for more precise control of comfort, ingress into the mattress, a softer bladder material, and better low air loss therapy.
I need a mattress that turns side to side just like the nurses do in the hospital. Does Alternating Pressure do that?
No. An alternating pressure mattress relieves pressure from under the patient.
The therapy that turns a patient side to side is Lateral Rotation, and it has a very specific patient profile. If specific conditions do not exist, turning the patient side to side may be problematic. Read "Lateral Rotation Mattress vs Alternating Pressure Mattress"
Feeling on your own to figure this out?
When dealing with skin breakdown, medical professionals offer limited information, and wound care guidance from Dr. Google is often inaccurate and product-centric. Many people find themselves on their own to figure out what is best. This is confusing, time-consuming, and frustrating.
Don't get overwhelmed, HELP is available.
None of the above is meant to diagnose or treat. The information above is meant to help guide your research and provide the basis for discussion with a professional. If you have questions, call a wound care professional or specialist.
Jeff Adise has been in the wound care industry for over 25 years. He is a product specialist and the developer of innovative therapeutic support surfaces for home recliners, lift chairs, wheelchairs, and beds. Wound care specialists, physicians, and caregivers recommend his innovative products. Disease-related organizations for conditions such as ALS, recognize and recommend his cushions. Jeff is working with doctors and Ph.D. researchers on a groundbreaking topical wound care serum. This innovative new drug has been shown to greatly accelerate the speed of quality healing while reducing infection.
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