Richard Buhrer, ARNP, MSCN
Because of the problems with sensation and movement that are often a component of multiple sclerosis, people with the disease often require special mattresses to keep them safe from developing bed sores and other skin problems. Another problem that people with MS suffer from is heat intolerance. In the presence of a high ambient temperature (temperature of the inside or outside environment), the nerves damaged by MS cease to function. So that when people with MS become overheated, their ability to move and sense the environment is diminished. Choosing a mattress that will protect the individual from becoming overheated and that will provide skin protection is very important for the health of the person with MS.
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When choosing a mattress, it is important to consider the effects of that mattress on skin protection and heat intolerance. Mattresses may be either static or dynamic. In general, a static mattress refers to a mattress that doesn’t move when a person lies on it. A dynamic mattress is powered by electricity to change the surface under a person to allow for a variety of medical needs. Dynamic mattresses involve at least one of the following technologies: fluidized air, alternating pressure or side-to-side turning.
Of these mattresses, only fluidized air is heated. The heat can be adjusted so that people with MS can use these surfaces, but they carry some risk of overheating. Alternating pressure and side-to-side turning are not heated. Therefore, heat intolerance is not as much of an issue with these mattresses.
All of these mattresses (except fluidized air) have Gortex ™ covers. This is a slippery fabric that is often used to make rain gear for hiking. It allows moisture to travel in one direction (which is to say, not into the mattress) so that the mattress is protected from moisture, and bowel and bladder accidents. It is customary to cover these mattresses with only one sheet. The goal is to minimize the number of layers between the skin and the surface of the mattress. Too many layers will increase the risk of bedsores and negate the advantages of the mattress.
Gortex™ fabric reduces the friction and shear from the mattress that could also injure the skin when a person is repositioned (especially pulled up in the bed). Lying on these mattresses may feel "sweaty" and warm to the person in the bed and this can be a problem for a person with MS. The only real alternative is to control the temperature in the room where the person is sleeping by using air conditioning or fans.
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The VA will only purchase single-bed sized mattresses. Most of them work best on a hospital-type bed frame. If Veterans prefer to sleep with their spouse or partner, then a good quality, soft, commercial mattress is probably the best choice. Air filled adjustable mattresses (for example, the Sleep Number Bed ™) are also available and might be a good choice for people with MS. It is recommended that you review all your mattress choices with your healthcare provider. They will be able to help you select the appropriate mattress surface for your particular medical need. Note: While name brands of mattresses were discussed in this document, they were used for purposes of name clarification and are not to be construed as promoting any particular brand of mattress.
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Last Updated: October 2009