Memory Foam vs Alternating Pressure Mattress with Low Air Loss. How to choose which mattress is better to prevent and treat bed sores.

When choosing a mattress for a person with limited mobility, it is important to understand the importance the mattress plays in that person's health, particularly of the skin. Bed sores can quickly form when prolonged pressure between the body and the mattress impedes blood flow to the skin. Without proper blood flow, the skin will breakdown. For those with limited mobility, preventing bed sores via a mattress that helps redistribute pressure is essential.


Visco Elastic foam AKA Memory Foam was developed in 1966 under a contract by NASA to improve the safety of aircraft seat cushions. The temperature-sensitive memory foam softens in reaction to body heat, allowing it to mold to a warm body in a few minutes.

Since releasing memory foam for consumer use, it can be found in an enormous array of products to improve comfort. Swedish company Tempur-pedic led the market in popularizing the memory foam mattresses.  Memory foam mattresses are often utilized to redistribute pressure in the home care setting, including when the home-bound patient has limited mobility. Memory foam is thought to be a less expensive alternative that reduces the risk of pressure ulcers. 


An Alternating Pressure with Low Air Loss Mattress features a series of air horizontal bladders whose pressure changes on a timed cycle and regulated via the use of an alternating pressure pump. While the effectiveness of these type of therapeutic mattress systems is documented against the incidence of and healing of bed sores, they are thought to be quite expensive. 

Expense is why many caregivers and patients choose a Memory Foam Mattress over an Alternating Pressure Low Air Loss Mattress. However, does a Memory Foam Mattress provide prevention and treatment of pressure ulcers? 

To determine if the Memory Foam Mattress is a viable option to Alternating Pressure with Low Air Loss, one needs to consider the patients' needs. Below are a series of questions to help determine which type of mattress is an appropriate choice to prevent and treat bed sores.

  1. Prevention of bed sores on a person with no history of occurrence? - YES = MEMORY FOAM (conditional, see below)
  2. Treatment of bed sores or the prevention of recurrence of a bed sore? - YES = ALTERNATING PRESSURE
  3. Inability to reposition themselves? - YES = ALTERNATING PRESSURE
  4. Patient transfers out of the bed by themselves or with limited assistance? - YES = ALTERNATING PRESSURE
  5. Has a condition that affects the regulation of body temperature? - YES = ALTERNATING PRESSURE
  6. Limited access to a caregiver? - YES = ALTERNATING PRESSURE (with limited mobility)
  7. Must be repositioned by a caregiver? - YES = ALTERNATING PRESSURE
  8. Bed frame Full, Queen, King? - YES = MEMORY FOAM (alternating pressure can be customized to fit these sizes)
  9. The patient has limited finances or Insurance - YES = ALTERNATING PRESSURE 

1.) If the patient has no history of bed sores, a Memory Foam Mattress MAY be an appropriate solution IF the following conditions are NOT PRESENT: 3,4,5,6,7 (see list above) If these conditions apply an Alternating Pressure Mattress with Low Air Loss may be a better solution.
2.) If the patient is treating or has a history of bed sores, alternating pressure with low air loss is recommended.

3.) By its nature, a patient will sink into a memory foam mattress. The heat sensitive material forms around the patient. This makes it more difficult for a patient with limited mobility to reposition themselves.  Alternating pressure does not allow the patient to sink into the mattress making repositioning easier
4.)  Memory foam mattresses do not have a perimeter border and crush down at the edge. This makes transferring out of the bed more difficult and may even create a patient safety risk. A quality Alternating pressure mattress features a static mode which firms up the entire mattress for safe patient transfer.
5.) Memory foam retains heat that is trapped between the patient and the mattress. This leads to sweating. Heat and Moisture are two prime factors that increase the risk of pressure ulcers. Alternating pressure with Low Air Loss helps to dissipate heat and moisture thereby reducing the risk of a bed sore and assists in healing.

6.) With limited access to a caregiver, a patient with limited mobility may be stuck in a memory foam mattress, unable to reposition and dissipate the heat build up. This may create an environment favorable to develop pressure ulcers. Alternating pressure mattresses feature adjustable comfort and some even provide a handheld remote.

7) Because the patient sinks into a memory foam mattress, it is much more difficult for a caregiver to roll, reposition or transfer a patient from the bed, Transferring a patient from the bed is a major cause of devastating back injuries to caregivers.  Use of an alternating pressure low air loss mattress system with a static mode allows for proper patient care and ease of transfer.

8) Memory foam mattresses come in all standard sizes from twin to king. An alternating pressure mattress is available in 36", 42" & 48" widths, however, Comforts Best can create a custom alternating pressure mattress in Full, Queen and King sizes and lengths up to 84"

9) Surprisingly a quality alternating pressure mattress with low air loss is less expensive than a quality memory foam mattress from companies such as Tempur-pedic. Furthermore, insurance may even cover the cost of an alternating pressure mattress.

When choosing a mattress for the prevention and treatment of bed sores it is essential to understand the factors above. Memory foam mattresses are meant simply for comfort. They have limited use in the prevention and treatment of pressure ulcers. Under many circumstances, not only is a memory foam mattress more expensive than an alternating pressure mattress, a memory foam mattress may actually increase the risk of development of a pressure ulcer. 

Jeff Adise, president of Purely Comfort LLC. has over two decades of experience with alternating pressure mattress systems and memory foam mattresses for both consumer and medical use

All Purely Comfort alternating pressure cushions were developed and are manufactured in the US.

The information above is not meant for the diagnosis or treatment of illness or medical condition. Always seek medical advice from a qualified healthcare or wound care professional.