Benefits of a Weighted Blanket for Seniors
Updated: Sep 8
Weighted blankets have garnered attention as a promising solution for elderly individuals facing sleep challenges and discomfort. These blankets, utilising deep pressure stimulation, not only aid in alleviating sleep disorders, but also deliver therapeutic benefits tailored to the unique sensory needs of older adults.
How do weighted blankets work?
Weighted blankets work based on the principles of Deep Pressure Stimula
tion (DPS) or Deep Touch Pressure (DTP). Here's a breakdown of how they function:
Deep Pressure Stimulation (DPS)
DPS involves applying even pressure across the body, similar to being hugged, swaddled, or held. This pressure has a calming effect on the nervous system.
Effect on the Nervous System
The sensation of DPS can help shift the body from its "fight or flight" (sympathetic) mode to its "rest and digest" (parasympathetic) mode. This can lead to a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol and an increase in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of happiness and well-being.
Mimics a Hug
The even pressure distributed by the weighted blanket can feel similar to a hug. Hugging is known to release oxytocin, a hormone that reduces pain and causes a drop in stress hormones.
For individuals with sensory processing disorders, autism, or ADHD, weighted blankets can provide a grounding experience, helping the individual feel more in touch with their environment and reducing feelings of anxiety.
Weighted blankets are designed to distribute their weight evenly, ensuring that the deep pressure is consistently applied to the body.
Benefits of the weighted blankets for elderly
Let's take a look at the many weighted blanket benefits for seniors:
Getting a restful night's sleep can become increasingly difficult as we get older.
Research tells us that as we age, we experience changes in our sleep wake cycle such as earlier sleep times, shorter night sleep durations, increased night awakenings and prolonged awake periods during the night.
Plus, daytime naps are more frequent and it's more of a challenge to fall asleep with slightly longer duration to transition into sleep is needed.
This gradual reduction in deep sleep holds particular significance, as it is during this phase that the brain eliminates harmful proteins linked to neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer's.
The study Weighted Blankets' Effect on the Health of Older People Living in Nursing Homes showed the use of weighted blankets improved the sleep of study participants significantly, especially with respect to waking up during the night.
Ease stress and anxiety symptoms
Many elderly people struggle with anxiety disorders and the increased financial burden with the current rise in cost of living only exacerbates their worries. Ongoing stress and anxiety can lead to a gradual decline in overall health.
Here's where weighted blankets can offer a simple solution to help address anxiety disorders and high stress levels. The pressure exerted by these blankets engages the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), a primary branch of the autonomic nervous system.
Activation of the PNS leads to a deceleration in heart rate and breathing, facilitating in many cases a peaceful state within the body.
Essentially, a weighted blanket counteracts the actions of the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the emotional response following stressful experiences.
It seems surprising that the benefits of a weighted blanket would extend to nutrition but according to the study we mentioned earlier, there was a notable improvement in the nutrition of the participants.
Relieves symptoms of depression
Weighted blankets have the unique ability to replicate the sensation of being embraced or hugged, and this sensation can aid the elderly in managing symptoms of depressive mental
These blankets encase us in a snug cocoon, evoking sensations of safety and comfort.
At a more scientific level, the use of weighted blankets prompts the generation of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which in many cases creates feelings of peace, joy and satisfaction.
May reduce chronic pain
Weighted blankets have emerged as a promising non-pharmaceutical approach to address chronic discomfort associated with ailments like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia.
Research reveals that a weighted blanket can indeed reduce chronic pain. Interestingly, study suggested that the heavy weighted blanket primarily influenced emotional and social aspects of chronic pain, rather than just the sensory components, due to the deep pressure's interoceptive and social/affective effects.
Decreased dependence on medication
Once again, we look to the weighted blanket study of nursing home residents to see there was a reduction in the use of psychoanaleptic medications among the participants.
Psychoanaleptics are drugs that stimulate the central nervous system and are often used to treat depression and other similar disorders.
While there is substantial research indicating that weighted blankets can contribute to better sleep and reduce feelings of fatigue, it's important to note that results may vary depending upon the individual's condition.
What are weighted blankets made of?
Weighted blankets can be made from a range of materials, including hypoallergenic and eco-friendly glass beads, each with unique advantages. Here's a breakdown of what weighted blankets consist of:
This can be made of various materials depending on the desired texture and appearance. The fabric of a weighted blanket plays a significant role in comfort. Here's the most common fabrics used in weighted blankets:
Properties: Breathable, natural, soft to touch, and hypoallergenic for most people.
Best for: People who tend to overheat at night or live in warmer climates. It’s also great for those with sensitive skin or allergies.
Properties: Synthetic, durable, and can mimic the appearance and feel of other fabrics. It can also be less breathable compared to natural fibers.
Best for: Those looking for a more affordable option. However, it might not be the best for hot sleepers or individuals with sensitive skin.
Properties: Woven from cotton, wool, or synthetic fibers, it's brushed to create a soft and fuzzy surface. It provides warmth and is gentle to the touch.
Best for: People living in colder climates or those who get cold easily during the night.
Properties: Made from polyester, it has a plush, soft texture similar to what's found on baby blankets. It's warm and luxurious to the touch.
Best for: Those who want a soft, cozy feel and don’t mind a synthetic fabric. Also suitable for colder weather or people who want a plush, luxurious feel.
Properties: Natural, very soft, and highly breathable. It also has moisture-wicking properties, which means it draws moisture away from the skin, making it cooling. Bamboo is also hypoallergenic and antibacterial.
Best for: Hot sleepers or those in warm climates, as well as individuals with allergies or sensitive skin.
The weight in these blankets comes from the fillings inside, which can include:
Plastic Poly Pellets: These are small, round beads made of plastic, and they are among the most common fillers for weighted blankets.
Glass Beads: Smaller than plastic pellets, glass beads are dense and give the blanket a finer, more evenly distributed weight.
Steel Shot Beads: These are tiny beads made of steel, providing a heavier feel but are less commonly used because of their potential to rust or damage the fabric.
Sand: Less common because it can be messy if the blanket gets a tear.
Organic Fillings: Materials like millet or rice might be used, but they can be problematic due to potential issues with pests or spoilage.
Apart from the weighted material, many weighted blankets include a layer of padding to provide comfort. This padding can be made of cotton, polyester batting, or other materials to ensure the beads or pellets remain evenly distributed and the user is comfortable.
Weighted blankets often have a quilted construction to ensure that the weighted material stays evenly distributed across the entire blanket.
Tips for choosing the right weighted blanket
Choose the Right Weight: A general guideline suggests selecting a blanket that's approximately 10% of the user's body weight. However, elderly individuals might prefer something slightly lighter due to decreased muscle strength or other health concerns.
Consider Fabric Type: Choose a fabric that is comfortable for the individual. For example, someone who gets hot easily might prefer a breathable cotton, while someone who is always cold might want a warmer fabric like flannel or minky.
Check for Ease of Cleaning: Elderly individuals might have a harder time cleaning heavy items. Look for a weighted blanket with a removable cover that can be easily laundered.
Opt for Even Weight Distribution: Ensure the blanket is well-stitched in a grid or quilted pattern, which helps distribute the weight evenly and prevents the beads or pellets from collecting in one area.
Safety First: Ensure the blanket doesn't pose a tripping hazard, especially when getting in or out of bed. The elderly person should be able to remove the blanket easily by themselves if needed.
Size Matters: Rather than a full-bed size, a small weighted blanket might be preferable as it focuses the weight where it's needed most (on the person) and is easier to manage.
Are weighted blankets safe for seniors?
While weighted blankets are often praised for their potential advantages, they aren't a universal solution and may not be suitable for everyone. A few potential risks seniors should consider before purchasing a weighted blanket.
Mobility Concerns: People with mobility issues should be cautious. If an individual can't move the blanket on their own, there's a potential risk.
Health Conditions: People with certain health conditions, such as respiratory problems or circulatory issues, should consult a healthcare professional before using a weighted blanket.
Overheating: Some people may become too hot under a weighted blanket, especially those made of warmer materials. It's essential to monitor for signs of overheating and choose a breathable fabric if this is a concern.
It's wise to exercise extra caution and always seek advice from a trusted health professional before buying and using a weighted blanket.
Weighted Blanket FAQs
What weight should I choose for a weighted blanket?
It's generally recommended to select a blanket that's about 10% of your body weight. However, personal comfort is paramount, so some individuals may prefer slightly lighter or heavier options.
Are weighted blankets safe for all ages?
While they're beneficial for many, weighted blankets are not recommended for infants or very young children due to the risk of suffocation. Elderly individuals or those with mobility issues should also exercise caution.
How do weighted blankets improve sleep?
Weighted blankets provide deep pressure stimulation, mimicking the feeling of being hugged or swaddled. This can help calm the nervous system, reduce anxiety, and improve overall sleep quality.
How can weighted blankets benefit elderly individuals with insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns?
For elderly individuals, weighted blankets can offer a comforting sensation, reducing nighttime restlessness and promoting deeper, more restorative sleep. This is especially beneficial as sleep patterns often change with age.
Are there any special considerations for elderly individuals using weighted blankets?
Yes, elderly users should ensure the blanket isn't too heavy to move on their own, preventing potential entrapment. Additionally, it's crucial to monitor for overheating and choose a breathable fabric if temperature regulation is a concern. Consulting with a healthcare professional is always a good idea before introducing any therapeutic tool.
This article is not sponsored, but it does include affiliate links. We do not include links to products solely for the purpose of earning a commission. Our product suggestions are provided based on our genuine opinions.
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The Adaptive Clothing Australia Team