Low air loss and alternating pressure medical air mattresses and pads- 3 Top-rated
The results you’re about to see are based on over 18 months of consulting with 6 personal care professionals, followed by a statistical modeling of over 800+ user experiences.
This guide took just under a year to compile, but we wanted to make sure that what we publish is reliable and helpful.
We update it regularly to reflect any changes on the market.
Without much ado, below are the 3 highest-rated products.
Last updated: March 2019
Drive Medical Med Aire system – top overall pick
This Drive Medical is both a low air loss and alternating pressure mattress. The alternating pressure mode can be turned off and the mattress used in a “static” mode”.
The head region is static, meaning that that top 3 baffles are firmly in place while the rest of the chambers alternate, which eliminates the need for extra cushioning or pillows.
The low shear cover is permeable for all vapors and resistant to fluids. The capacity is 450 pounds and the dimensions are 80 x 36 x 8 inches. The set comes with a cover pump, included at no extra cost.
Set up demonstration
This Drive Medical is an advanced and well-thought out system we found. The pump is “smart” so that it returns to an alternation if left in static mode for longer than two hours.
It’s also equipped to handle power outage – design of the baffles (cell-on-cell) keeps it inflated for 24 hours during power outages – it also prevents a common issue with lower quality products – bottoming-out.
Most importantly – the combined power of the two pressure relief systems does a better job at minimizing maceration.
Drive Medical backs this product up with a 1-year limited warranty.
Vive alternating pressure pad / overlay
This Vive is by far the most popular among alternating pressure pads and overlays. An important difference between this Vive and the Drive Medical (above) is the fact that the former is meant to be used as a pad or overlay for an existing mattress.
The other crucial difference is that this product uses only one pressure-relief system (alternation), and the Drive Medical incorporates both. Pads and overlays like this Vive are meant to be used for less severe wounds.
The 130 heat-sealed chambers minimize the chance of potential air leaks and can support up 300 lbs.
How it works
While looking into the manufacturing practices and the user satisfaction ratings, we were honestly left in awe about the low price tag of this Vive, especially having in mind that the pump comes included.
Vive stands behind their product with a no-questions-asked warranties – 90 day for the pad and 1 year for the pump.
Lateral rotation mattress by Invacare
On the high-end of both features and price, you have the Invacare lateral rotation mattress.
The experiences with lateral rotation mattresses vs. manually turning the bed-ridden person are mixed. Most of the personal care experts we talked to recommend manual turning when possible. The rotation mattress, however, is huge plus for night-time turning.
This Invacare is based on their patent called z-cell technology and can turn up to 40 degrees.
In this section of the guide, we’ll take a step back and supply some reference information for those who are just getting familiar with the two technologies and answer some of the most common questions that pop up in our inbox.
We’ll also define the basic terms and look at some best practices of use.
What is an Alternating Pressure air mattress?
It’s the type of a medical air mattress that uses the the pump to quietly removes air from the alternating cylinders in the bed. This creates a wave-like motion that allows for gentle shofts in pressure, promote circulation. It can be beneficial for both wound prevention and heling of the existing ones.
The head of the unit does not have cylinders that deflate. This helps to make their sleep more comfortable. As for the alternating cells, patients seldom notice the changes, since they are quite gradual.
They have a cycle time, during which the air is completely changed out in each cell at least once. This cycle time can be adjusted, but on average, the choice is 10 around minutes.
What is a low air loss mattress?
It is basically, an air-conditioned mattress made of air bladders that are inflated for the patient’s comfort. However, the bladders are manufactured with small air holes in them.
This means they constantly “leak” air. The purpose of this is to help prevent bedsores.
As the air leaks out of alternating bladders, it wicks away moisture at contact points between the mattress and the patient’s skin. By keeping the skin dry, the mattress helps to prevent bedsores. These bladders are automatically re-inflated once they reach a minimum setting of inflation, and the process begins again. Some models circulate over 100 liters of air every minute, keeping the patient dry and cool without drying out medical dressings.
At no point is the patient unsupported on any section of the unit. The air loss and re-inflation take place on alternating cylinders so that there is no loss of support.
The patient does not feel that the bed is deflating beneath them; rather, if anything, they have the feeling of floating. The pumps themselves vary in noise level, but most are designed to be whisper quiet so as to not annoy the patient.
Combination of the two technologies
Most health workers agree that, for more serious injuries (stage 3 and 4) the best mattresses for bed-ridden patients are the combination of the two technologies.
The patient receives the benefits of the air-flow against their skin, preventing bedsores, while the patient and caretaker both benefit from the technology. It allows caretakers to deflate one side other, in order to turn or transport the patient.
The top-rated ones are made of 20 “deep-bladder” baffles and each of them is removable. The CPR (crankcase pressure regulator) inflates and deflates quickly.
Types of medical air mattresses
These specialized units are valuable in health care situations both in the hospital and at home. They are available in two forms: as an overlay, and as an entire system.
If you order an overlay, you will need a mattress on which to put the system. This will serve very much as a topper and is usually used for stages 1 and 2 wounds.
A replacement system is self-sufficient. These are typically more expensive, as an entire bed would be.
Other Types of Therapy
Some models offer additional therapies. Lateral rotation, for example, will constantly “rock” the patient from side to side. This is not a fast action, but does keep the patient constantly, gently rolling from one side to the other.
This helps to reduce the risks of pneumonia and other pulmonary problems. It also helps to stimulate the gastrointestinal tract because of the shifting of the patient’s weight. The improvement of circulation and pressure relief help to prevent bedsores.
Pulse mode is available on some products. This setting will reduce the air flow in the pad every few seconds. It will reduce to 50% of the chosen setting, then re-inflate.
Manual Alternating Pressure Mattresses, pads and overlays
These products have proven to be invaluable to the medical community for the relief of bedsores. Some models require manual operation to achieve the change of pressure. In these cases, the angle of the bed is changed and the operator can inflate or deflate sections of the bed with an electric pump.
Automatic Alternating Pressure pads and mattresses
More specialized products are available that offer more focused control. Each of these has a series of airtight bladders that are individually inflated from a mounted pump. This pump will inflate and deflate the bladders as programmed. This significantly increases the comfort of the bed and helps to improve circulation.
By changing the air pressure, the caregiver can keep circulation going without having to turn the patient as often. It also keeps fluid flowing and circulating through the patient’s system, delivering nutrients and medication.
Another benefit is that they can be programmed to change pressure every 30 minutes or so. This helps the patient rest better and contributes to overall skin and joint health.
Low air loss mattress Medicare requirements
The Medicare requirements are one of the most commonly asked questions – you can see the existing requirements here.
Are they only for hospital use?
No. They are also intended for home use. A hospital-sized pad can be placed on a bed at home. It can also be deflated and packed for a trip. They usually have a flap at the head and foot that can be tucked to prevent slipping.
How noisy are the pumps?
The pumps are very quiet, and often go unnoticed in hospital rooms with other medical equipment operating. Some say that the pump sounds a little like a ticking clock. Since the pumping technology is so intricate, providing inflation to different cylinders individually, the pumps are usually separate, rather than built-in.
Are these they complicated to set up?
Despite the intricate tubing systems that keep the cylinders inflated, most people say that the they are easy to set up.
Do they smell bad on arrival? Will it need to be aired out?
The better ones are made of vapor-permeable materials to minimize the odor.
In terms of the out-of-box vinyl smell, that quickly dissipates, even before the set up.
Do they take long to set up?
They sometimes have a longer inflation time at the beginning, up to 45 minutes for some models. However, these models will stay inflated for a day if the electricity goes out. Some of them have a cell-in-cell structure that assures a minimum amount of inflation at all times, while others incorporate layers of cells, one of which remains inflated.
A bit of background info -who invented the medical air mattress?
As we know it today and as it was presented above, the medical air mattress as we know it today was patented by the Picard Healthcare Technology. The patent was filed on June 10 of 2011 and published on Dec 13, 2012. You can read more on the Google patents page here.
Some people fear that their unit is defective because after a few minutes, they don’t see it inflating. Give it time, and you will see bumps forming where the air is entering the cylinders.
Are they easy to deflate?
Most come with a CPR tag. This can be removed to deflate the unit in an emergency.
What do I do if there is no air coming out of an outlet?
Since most of these models use alternating air currents to regulate inflation, it’s advisable to wait and see. Air will probably come out of that outlet in a few minutes, when that side cycles on.
What is a CPR valve and why it’s important for medical and bariatric use?
A crankcase pressure regulator or CPR valve is a way to reduce the pressure and control it so that it never rises above the pre-set firmness. the quality and reliability of the CPR valve plays a big role in the overall quality of the product. For this guide, we specifically looked into the manufacturing practices and potential issues with quality if the production of the valves is outsourced.
The tops brands that we mentioned here have been consistent in the high manufacturing standards in all the updates and follow-ups we did, including this month’s.
How long does it take to inflate?
Depending on the, thickness and volume it can take anywhere from a few minutes for pads and overlays to 45 minutes with more intricate systems.
Time of inflation/deflation should not be a deciding factor in choosing.
What to do if one section is not inflating?
If a section seems to be lagging in inflation it doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is faulty. A common issue that can cause the problem is a kink in the hose supplying the air to the baffles.
If your well-adjusted to the weight, there should be no bottoming-out.
Below is a step-by-step guide on how to perform a “bottoming-out test” and adjust the firmness accordingly.
Top 3 brands
Based on what we’ve seen in the reviews, the 3 most well-trusted brands are:
How to choose the firmness settings?
If your well-adjusted to the weight, there should be no bottoming-out.
Below is a step-by-step guide on when and how to perform a “bottoming-out test” and adjust the firmness accordingly.
When to perform a bottoming out test on an alternating pressure air mattress?
The test should be performed each time the patient goes to bed and each time you change the position or inclination of the base.
- Use low-friction gloves so that you can easily slide your hand underneath and pull it out
- The test is to be performed when the unit is inflated and the alternation has begun
- The person should be laying on their side or back for the test
If there is a zip-cover, unzip it to about 60-70% of the length (covers are usually zipped top-to-bottom, which means that the lower third can remain zipped)
- Do touch-test in the area below the pelvic and buttock region, usually one of the few cell sin that region will be less inflated and softer to touch
- Slide your hand between the person and the cells that you determined to be softer
- The rule of thumb – you should be able to easily insert your hand and the clearance should be about 2 inches, which is approximately one wrist-high
- If you have problems and it’s difficult to slide your hand in, it’s an indication that the firmness should be higher. Adjust the setting and wait for a few minutes until the pad is fully inflated
- If the clearance is higher than 2 inches, it might indicate that the firmness setting is to high. the rule of thumb is that the person should be immersed 30-50 % of the height of the top cells. If the immersion is lower, decrease the pressure settings, wait 10 minutes and repeat the test.
- Re-zip the cover and remember to always perform the test when changing the inclination.
What if you puncture a cell?
With full mattress systems, the baffles are usually separate and can be replaced by getting a spare directly from the manufacturer.
Updates of this guide
The part of this guide mentioning specific products is updated quarterly or bi-monthly, depending on the volume of new data we get. We have the policy in place to keep the information presented relevant.
We’re also regular contact with our panel of personal care consultants to be informed of any new technologies and developments in the field.
The bottom line is – you can rest assured that at each point in time the information hyou see is fresh and up-to-date.
The Sleep Studies team