Utilizing gravitational potential power to evaluate the chance of falls from mattress

An older affected person’s threat of falling ought to be assessed when in hospital. This text discusses how gravitational potential power might match into these issues of threat


Within the UK, falls in hospital are essentially the most generally reported affected person security incident. Threat is multifactorial and will increase with age, some drugs, and circumstances resembling delirium and dementia. Falls prevention ought to embrace a personalised evaluation and discussions with sufferers, supported by constant use of numerical knowledge and a mixture of phrase and film codecs. Any choice made to forestall a fall ought to be within the affected person’s finest pursuits and least restrictive of their primary rights and freedoms. Gravitational potential power is a technique of exhibiting the elevated threat of hurt from falls from a mattress with rising peak. This may be mixed with popliteal peak to find out the perfect peak that’s least restrictive for sufferers and permits them to maneuver safely away from bed.

Quotation: Martindale D (2022) Utilizing gravitational potential power to evaluate the chance of falls from mattress. Nursing Occasions [online]; 118: 2, 36-39.

Writer: Deborah Martindale is medical director, Medstrom

  • This text has been double-blind peer reviewed
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Falls prevention has been the topic of a lot debate and its significance is mirrored within the well being and social care agenda. In 2013, the Nationwide Institute for Well being and Care Excellence (NICE) suggested that falls threat prediction instruments weren’t advisable, as a result of lack of sensitivity (NICE, 2013). Greatest apply is to display screen all sufferers, whatever the cause for his or her admission to acute care, if they’re aged >65 years, or aged 50-64 years and regarded to be vulnerable to a fall due to an underlying situation. Every affected person ought to obtain a personalised multifactorial threat evaluation and a immediate plan to handle the elements for falling in hospital that may be handled, improved or managed throughout their keep (NICE, 2013).

Falls have many complicated and wide-ranging causes, resembling:

  • Muscle weak spot;
  • Poor steadiness;
  • Visible impairment;
  • Use of sure medicines;
  • Polypharmacy;
  • Environmental hazards;
  • Some particular medical circumstances (Public Well being England, 2020).

A few of the causes for falls – resembling gait and bettering lean muscle tone – may be addressed by referral to specialist groups (PHE, 2020). This text focuses on the rapid falls threat from mattress and mitigating potential hurt.

Who’s vulnerable to falls?

Sufferers who’re acutely unwell or out of their typical atmosphere are at better threat of falls than they might be in regular circumstances. These dangers are amplified within the presence of sensory impairment, delirium or dementia (Royal Faculty of Physicians, 2015). To cut back the chance of falls in hospital, insurance policies and techniques have to mirror the hyperlink with circumstances resembling dementia or delirium, which compound points round acute sickness and power issues with gait or steadiness (RCP, 2015).

The RCP’s (2015) nationwide audit of inpatient falls discovered that 42% of trusts didn’t routinely assess for dementia and 32% of falls insurance policies have been written in isolation, with no hyperlink to delirium or dementia insurance policies. Analysis has proven that older adults with dementia are twice as more likely to fall as these with out the situation (Nationwide Affected person Security Company (NPSA), 2007). Proportionally, 77% of all reported inpatient falls occur to sufferers aged >65 years, regardless of this group solely representing 40% of admissions (NHS Enchancment, 2017). Not solely are falls extra more likely to happen in older sufferers, however they’re additionally extra more likely to lead to hurt on this affected person group. The place hurt does happen, it’s more likely to be thrice extra extreme for adults aged over 70 years than these aged beneath 70, together with the chance of demise within the following weeks (Boynton, 2010).

In England, 676,000 individuals have dementia (Division of Well being, 2015a). This situation primarily impacts older individuals and, after the age of 65 years, the probability of creating dementia roughly doubles each 5 years. An estimated 25% of hospital beds are occupied by sufferers with dementia (DH, 2015a); as well as, these with dementia spend practically 4 occasions longer in hospital after a fall than these with out dementia and the ensuing frailty will increase the chance of them being unable to return dwelling (Boaden, 2016).
Delirium additionally will increase the chance of falls. Older individuals and people with dementia, extreme sickness or a hip fracture are at better threat of delirium than the overall inhabitants. The prevalence of delirium is about 20-30% on medical wards and impacts 10-50% of sufferers having surgical procedure (NICE, 2019). Those that expertise delirium keep longer in hospital, have extra hospital-acquired problems resembling stress ulcers, usually tend to want long-term care and are at elevated threat of mortality (NICE, 2019).

“A mattress with a decrease peak might cut back the chance of harm from a fall, nevertheless it should even be taken under consideration how the mattress peak might then have an effect on the affected person’s capacity to rehabilitate or mobilise”

Prevalence of falls

Within the NHS, falls are essentially the most generally reported affected person security incident, with >240,000 reported in acute hospitals and psychological well being trusts in England and Wales yearly (RCP, 2015). Falls are estimated to value the NHS greater than £2.3bn annually (NICE, 2013) and an acute belief is estimated to incur direct prices from falls of £92,000 a 12 months, with further prices for litigation and elevated well being and social care put up discharge (NPSA, 2007).

Mitigation of falls

Analysis has proven that a number of interventions by the multidisciplinary crew, tailor-made to satisfy particular person wants, can cut back falls by 20-30% (RCP, 2015). These interventions are significantly necessary for sufferers with dementia and delirium due to their excessive threat of falls in hospital (RCP, 2015). Nonetheless, there isn’t a single or simply identifiable intervention that, when undertaken by itself, is proven to scale back falls (RCP, 2015).

The shortage of proof round appropriate methods is echoed by NICE steering, which highlights that, though single and multifactorial interventions to forestall falls have been the topic of analysis, their total effectiveness in numerous care settings (resembling psychological well being models for older individuals) has not been established. As well as, the effectiveness of various element components of a multifactorial evaluation is unclear and the effectiveness to completely different subgroups, resembling individuals with dementia, can be unclear; as such, randomised managed trials are wanted (NICE 2013).

Given the UK’s ageing inhabitants, what may instantly be carried out to scale back hurt from a fall whether it is an recognized threat throughout a hospital admission (Deary et al, 2009; Andersen-Ranberg et al, 1999)? Many interventions require a long-term method to optimising a person by the use of energy and steadiness coaching, in addition to referrals to specialist falls groups. This leaves nursing employees with the rapid difficulty of finest shield their affected person from hurt.

Assessing threat

It’s broadly recognised that reaching zero falls could be unrealistic, of exorbitantly excessive value and – maybe most significantly – has potential to infringe upon, and be detrimental to, affected person rehabilitation (King et al, 2018; NHSI, 2017; RCP, 2015; NPSA, 2007). But, with 22% of inpatient falls occurring instantly from the mattress (RCP, 2015), this text appears on the threat of harm to which a affected person could also be topic when falling from a mattress at various heights.

The NHS Structure For England advises that sufferers have the best to secure appropriate care and employees ought to do all they’ll to guard sufferers from avoidable hurt (DH, 2015b). NICE (2012) advocates that employees ought to:

  • Personalise dangers and advantages for a affected person so far as potential;
  • Be constant in using knowledge;
  • Use numerical knowledge in addition to a combination of numerical and pictorial codecs (NICE, 2012).

It ought to be famous that, when a affected person is unable to consent to their care, choices ought to be taken in keeping with the Psychological Capability Act 2005. When any choice is made, the rationale ought to be documented and remedy ought to be:

  • Within the affected person’s finest pursuits;
  • Least restrictive of their primary rights and freedoms.

For a dialogue on mattress peak, this implies bearing in mind the affected person’s capacity to mobilise, with out restriction of motion, and their proper to rehabilitation or motion if they’re ready, and need, to face.

Mattress peak and falls

A literature search utilizing the phrases “mattress peak” and “unintentional falls” produced 39 papers. Many of those – resembling Dsouza and Bertocci (2018), Thompson and Bertocci (2014) and Claudet et al (2013) – concentrate on falls in kids and conclude that aside from mass, harm consequence measures tended to be extra delicate to adjustments in environmental parameters, resembling mattress peak and affect floor, than parameters resembling physique stiffness. Thompson and Bertocci (2014) and Claudet et al (2013) concurred that threat of a traumatic mind harm was statistically important when falling from a peak of >90cm.

Two research targeted on grownup sufferers. Merryweather et al (2015) checked out lower-extremity torque brought about when sufferers tried to maneuver from a mattress saved at two set heights, 38cm and 58cm. They discovered that low beds posed dangers to the inhabitants for which they have been designed – particularly, the older inhabitants at elevated threat of falling. This reveals the significance of a multifactorial threat evaluation, whereby the carer ought to adapt using the mattress for the person affected person’s wants.

Conversely, Menéndez et al (2013) discovered a discount of 28.3% in falls with a lower-height mattress in a geriatric acute hospital ward, and 1.88% fewer falls with hurt, main them to conclude that this decreased hurt and price.

As a result of moral issues, which might inhibit research the place hurt (a fall) could be inflicted on precise sufferers, a number of completely different researchers used a take a look at gadget to simulate the consequences of a falling affected person/particular person (Dsouza and Bertocci, 2018; Thompson and Bertocci, 2014; Raymond et al, 2011).

De Paiva et al (2010) analysed 826 opposed occasions and located that 55% of falls have been from the mattress. They discovered these falls occurred early within the hospital keep, totally on a neurological ward, at evening, and within the older inhabitants; this led them to conclude that “excessive significance ought to be positioned on learning the inhabitants to characterise these at excessive threat for falls to help within the implementation of preventive measures” (De Paiva et al, 2010).

One literature evaluate undertaken by Anderson et al (2012) discovered that the low peak of beds was not related to a statistically important improve or lower within the fee of accidents, though the usual of care within the management group was not described.

This proof reinforces the necessity for high-quality randomised managed trials to assist carers make knowledgeable choices about cut back the chance of hurt in sufferers for whom a fall is an recognized threat. Within the meantime, it’s value contemplating whether or not something may be carried out to scale back the chance of hurt in these vulnerable to a fall that can be least restrictive of the affected person’s primary rights and freedoms.

Gravitational potential power

Within the absence of this clarification, and whereas noting that hurt to sufferers may be affected by a number of dynamics, this text appears at what gravitational potential power can inform us about an individual’s threat of falls.

Gravitational potential power is a approach to calculate the power saved in an object due to its place or distance above the ground (Fig 1). It’s a simplistic system that makes use of the affected person’s weight and the peak that the affected person falls. We all know that people don’t fall uniformly and a affected person might search to sluggish a fall by grabbing onto one thing or fall head or foot first, which can have an effect on the harm sustained. However gravitational potential power helps us illustrate the chance of a fall from an rising peak in conversations addressing threat of a fall from mattress.


Easy physics signifies that the decrease the mattress, the decrease the chance, and gravitational potential power can be utilized to indicate this. A affected person with a weight of 80kg has been used for example the discount in gravitational potential power with a decrease mattress. To offer uniformity on this calculation, a 14cm foam floor has been added to the low peak of a variety of medical/surgical beds in frequent use (Desk 1). Taking 39cm mattress peak as a place to begin plus a 14cm foam mattress, the gravitational potential power was calculated in lowering peak increments of 1cm.

The calculations present {that a} mattress at 21cm has half the gravitational potential power of a mattress at 39cm. A mattress with a low peak of 12cm would have 100% much less gravitational potential power than a mattress with a low peak of 39cm (Desk 1).

As a caregiver is required to contemplate the “least restrictive of the affected person’s primary rights and freedoms”, in accordance with the Psychological Capability Act 2005, a affected person’s capacity to mobilise from a mattress at flooring peak must be thought-about. That is particularly as Merryweather et al (2015) confirmed that decrease extremity torque at low heights really elevated the chance of falls in older individuals, who could also be much less capable of compensate for a low mattress peak due to bodily and cognitive deficits.

Nursing employees want to take a look at each the dangers and advantages for sufferers, particularly the weak inside their care. Subsequently, though a mattress with a decrease peak might cut back the chance of harm to a affected person from a fall, as a result of a discount in gravitational potential power, it should even be taken under consideration how the mattress peak might then have an effect on the affected person’s capacity to rehabilitate or mobilise. Martindale (2021) on the popliteal measurement (distance from the ground to behind the knee) (Fig 2) of the British inhabitants reveals that, for somebody to have the ability to sit on the fringe of their mattress with their ft firmly on the ground and transfer to face, a peak of 35cm-35.5cm is good. With a mattress peak of 14cm, it suggests a mattress body 21cm from the ground could be appropriate for a affected person to soundly begin to mobilise (Fig 3). This peak additionally reduces the gravitational potential power and threat of hurt ought to a affected person fall or roll from mattress, with out impeding secure motion away from bed.



Falls discount is a posh space with many interconnected elements. All sufferers have distinctive dangers, and you will need to establish these in any multifactorial evaluation in order that the suitable steps may be taken to deal with, enhance or handle them throughout the affected person’s keep in hospital.

Dangers will alter because the affected person’s situation adjustments and ought to be reassessed as obligatory. NICE (2013) steering on falls requires extra strong proof on which interventions are only in numerous settings and with completely different subgroups of sufferers. When discussing dangers with sufferers, family or these with authorized tasks for sufferers, numerical knowledge, phrases and pictorial pictures ought to, the place potential, be used for example the factors made.

Gravitational potential power has been used as a easy illustration of how falling from completely different mattress platform heights can improve the chance of harm. The constraints of this method are acknowledged, together with that sufferers don’t fall uniformly and the route of a fall can have a bearing on the kind of harm brought about.

Care ought to be taken that, the place a mattress is ready at a low peak, the decrease extremity torque doesn’t hinder a affected person’s capacity to mobilise, as this in itself may improve the chance of a fall. This may be significantly necessary the place a affected person can’t consent to remedy. Use of popliteal measurements, as mentioned in an earlier article (Martindale, 2021), additional helps the dialogue on the suitable mattress peak to scale back falls threat, whereas permitting a affected person to maneuver away from bed.

The place a affected person is at rapid threat of hurt from a fall, it’s critical {that a} balanced and regarded method to the chance of hurt is mentioned.

Key factors

  • Falls are a serious burden and price to the NHS yearly
  • All sufferers aged >65 years, or aged 50-64 years with sure circumstances, ought to be screened for falls threat when in hospital
  • Many elements are concerned in falls threat, however one consideration is mattress peak
  • Gravitational potential power can be utilized for example the chance of a fall at sure mattress heights
  • It is usually necessary to consider the affected person’s capacity to maneuver away from bed with ease

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