What is an Alternating Pressure Mattress and How Does it Work?

Alternating Pressure Mattress

Pressure ulcers, more commonly known as bedsores, are injuries to the skin and underlying tissue resulting from prolonged pressure on the skin. The most common areas for pressure ulcers to manifest are on parts of the body that are bony, such as the ankles, hips or the tailbone. Pressure ulcers most often happen in people who are unable to get out of bed and unable to change positions voluntarily, causing prolonged pressure on parts of their body and eventually bedsores.

Pressure ulcers are not inevitable and there are ways to prevent them, such as changing the elevation of the bed or providing assistance to shift the weight of the patient. Another way to prevent bedsores are through the use of alternating pressure mattresses. These mattresses are designed not only to regularly alternate the pressure for a patient but also to do so automatically, making them an effective way to provide consistent relief.

What is an alternating pressure mattress?

An alternating pressure mattress, also known as an air-flow mattress, uses air to dynamically redistribute pressure throughout a lying surface. Other pressure mattresses, such as static foam mattresses are made to prevent sores by providing a low pressure surface for patients to lie on, however, they still come with the limitation of being static. Which means that the patient may still lie in the same position for a long time, and while relieving some pressure, it cannot relieve it completely. In this scenario users would still be at risk of developing or aggravating sores if they lie on the same side for too long.  

An alternating pressure mattress on the other hand uses air to dynamically redistribute pressure for the patient. This means that no part of their body will be exposed to pressure the entire time, reducing the chances of developing bedsores.

How do alternating pressure mattresses work? 

Alternating air pressure mattresses are designed with rows of lateral air cells, which can be inflated or deflated to alternate the pressure within the lying surface. A pump is used to inflate or deflate these cells automatically. This means that a carer can set up a pressure cycle and the alternating pressure mattress will automatically change the airflow through the sleeping surface for the patient.  This is an excellent way to ensure the safety of the patient without needing to manually change their position, allowing the carer to focus on providing critical assistance where it is required. 

There are two types of alternating pressure mattresses, overlay systems and full replacement systems. Overlay systems are shallow pressure mattresses designed to be placed on top of an existing mattress and provide alternating relief for the patient. Full replacement systems on the other hand, are designed to completely replace the existing static mattress. Due to their greater depth, full replacement systems tend to have a greater level of pressure relief.