Consumer Guide
4 Main Types of Pressure Relief Mattress Toppers

Pressure relieving mattress toppers can make the person more comfortable in bed and may help prevent and treat pressure sores. Although many types of mattress overlay materials are available, no single type is effective in all situations.

Three major problems can occur, depending on the type of material.

1. Some materials or their plastic covers can make people hot and sweaty.

2. The topper can also make the bed higher, which can make transfers more difficult if your care receiver is still walking and doesn't have a height adjustable bed.

3. Some overlays have a more unstable transfer surface.

Below are four of the main types of toppers or overlays, each with their pros and cons. It's vital that you talk to your health care professional before making a purchase, especially if the person you care for is frail, spends a lot of time in bed, or has a pressure sore.

Medicare may pay for all or part of the cost of a specialty mattress or overlay if the person meets certain coverage guidelines. Check with your health care provider for more information.

Pressure Relieving Foam

How it Works

•Special "open cell" construction disperses person's weight, reducing areas of high pressure.
•Two main types are latex foam and visco-elastic foam (also called Memory Foam).
•Can be effective in preventing and treating certain types of pressure sores.

Special Concerns

•Some, but not others, find visco-elastic foam hot.
•Some, but not others, find visco-elastic foam hard to turn over on.
•Check bed height for transfer safety due to change in bed height.

Technical Talk

•Effective pressure relief depends on the thickness and density of the overlay. A 3 inch height with a density of 4 to 5 lbs (pounds) is generally recommended, though factors like "response time" complicate how soft or hard a mattress feels.

Please note: We're not including information on the "egg crate" foam mattress topper as the foam used is not a pressure relief material.

Australian Medical Genuine Sheepskin Wool (NOT SYNTHETIC)

How it Works

•Thick, soft, springy wool fibers distribute body weight and pressure points over a large area.
•Wicks away moisture from the skin.
•Sheepskin absorbs over 30% of fiber weight in moisture.
•Smooth pile reduces friction & skin tearing.
•Good for people who complain of heat; remains cool in summer and warm in winter.
Special Concerns

•Sheepskin is placed on top of bottom fitted sheet (person sleeps on the sheepskin).
•Safety Wise! Not all sheepskin is the same. Choose sheepskin with an optimum therapeutic wool pile that meets the Australian Standard 4480.1 for Australian Medical Sheepskins.
•Buy a single size for localized relief from pressure sores.
•Buy a double size for full body relief.
•Green sheepskin is specially tanned to be urine resistant.
•Machine washable and dryable but may take two drying cycles. Although pricey, consider buying two so you can wash one.

Australian Standard 4480.1 for Australian Medical Sheepskins

Gel & Foam
How it Works

•Gel sections, sandwiched in-between top and bottom foam layer, distribute a person's weight more evenly to relieve pressure around bony prominences.
•May have a convoluted, high density polyurethane foam topper.
•Has non-shear/low friction surface

Special Concerns

•Some may find it hot; look for a breathable cover.
•Check bed height for safety due to change in bed height.

Alternating Air Pressure with Pump

How it Works

•Rows of air cells inflate/deflate alternately so pressure on any given point changes continually.
•Plastic air tubes deliver air from the electric motor to the mattress.
•Mattress is covered by a sheet.

Special Concerns

•Person may become agitated at the motor noise and constantly changing pressure and movement of the mattress.
•Person may find the plastic cover too hot or too comfortable (our testers did)
•Person must be able to tolerate pressure in certain areas.
•Talk to a health care provider before purchasing - there may be better alternatives.


Pressure Relieving Foam Toppers - American Manufacturers
Foamex Innovations (According to Foamex, online vendors of their Aerus memory foam mattress topper include and; however, there are also other online vendors).

Sleep Aid


Cost: $230 - $550 for a 3 – 4 inch topper with a 4 – 5 lb density (the size and density generally recommended for maximum pressure relief). 2.5 inch toppers may be available at a lower cost, but be sure to choose the correct pound (lb) density and check with a health professional if you’re purchasing for someone at risk of pressure sore development.

Australian Medical Genuine Sheepskin Wool (NOT SYNTHETIC)
Australia Online Products
Exton Enterprises
Down-Under Wool

Cost: $160 - $200

Gel Foam Mattress Overlay
Drive Medical

Cost: $260 - $320

Back to Top of Page