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Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago: LIFE Center
Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago: LIFE Center

Skin Care: Mattresses and Cushions

Reviewed August 2012
Author: Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago - Nursing Practice Council

Wheelchair cushions, mattresses and mattress toppers can help relieve pressure when sitting or lying down. The type of cushion or mattress can allow you to stay in one position for longer periods of time and reduce the risk of developing pressure sores. There are many different types of cushions and mattress. Some are made of foam, air, water and/or gel.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all of the devices. The following are some general considerations for the major type of devices.

Type Advantages Disadvantages
Foam
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to transfer
  • Decreases pressure only small amount
  • Can cause skin problems if wet
Water
  • Adequate pressure relief
  • Very heavy
  • Can develop leaks
  • Hard to transfer
Air
  • Good for decreasing pressure
  • Lightweight
  • Can leak
  • Hard to transfer
  • Needs careful inflation
  • Expensive
Alternating Air Mattress
  • Very effective at decreasing pressure
  • Can break
  • Expensive

In general it is best to use the device that is least expensive while being effective. Things to consider when making a choice:

  • ability to consistently perform pressure reliefs;
  • need for a firm surface to perform transfers;
  • ability of the skin to handle pressure without being damaged.

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