Night supports have major benefits

Simple supports that are designed to ensure sure older people with complex health problems sleep in better positions can make a huge difference to their health and quality of life, researchers have found.

Melanie Stephens, senior lecturer in adult nursing, and Carol Bartley, lecturer in occupational therapy from the University of Salford, conducted the first study of its kind when they worked with residents of a care home to see whether using night time positioning equipment – devices that help people sleep in safer postures - made a difference.

People with complex health needs such as Parkinson’s, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and dementia often lie in one position for long periods. This can lead to serious problems with breathing, digestion and blood circulation. In extreme cases it can even lead to death.

Positioning equipment, such as specially adapted cushions and supports, is often used to make sure people remain in a comfortable and safe position while they sleep rather than rolling into postures that could do them harm. While studies have been carried out examining how effective the equipment is on children, this is the first time researchers have looked into the effect it has on adults.

The pair recruited residents and members of staff at a Four Seasons Healthcare nursing and residential home and introduced pieces of equipment made by Simple Stuff Works, before spending 12 weeks measuring a range of factors evaluating the effects this had on their health and wellbeing.

The residents were aged 51-89 and had suffered from a wide range of conditions including dementia, asthma and advanced Parkinson’s, while some were amputees and many experienced depression.

The pair found there were improvements in how the participants slept, as well as how depressed they felt and how much pain they were experiencing, while their risk of choking decreased.

Many of the participants had better food and fluid intake while half of them put on weight throughout the programme – critical with people suffering a deteriorating condition – and in some cases the medication they were taking was reduced or even stopped.

The pair are now calling for more research to be carried out into the effects of the equipment on a wider group including younger adults.

Carol Bartley says: “Many health professionals use this equipment and have been calling for research into the effect it has on adults with complex needs, but this is the first time that any serious analysis has been carried out. We’ve found the effects have been considerable across a wide range of factors.”

Melanie Stephens says: “Although only a small proportion of staff attended the training, this did have a positive impact on them and other staff and was highlighted in their confidence and competence to apply their new knowledge and skills in recognising postural requirements of new residents to the home.”

Sarah Clayton, CEO of Simple Stuff Works, says: “Having worked for many years supporting people to use simple, effective night time positioning we have a great deal of anecdotal evidence about their benefits.  

“This study however represents the first independent qualitative and quantitative research into the use of our equipment with older adults with complex needs and we are delighted with the significant, wide ranging benefits that were found. We hope that this study will be the first of many and that older adults with complex needs will have improved access to this simple, transformative support.”