Lifting Your Loved One Safely
When was the last time you had to lift your loved one out of a bed or a chair? Did it make you wonder if you were going to end up in bed yourself with a bad back? Because caregiving can be such a strenuous physical activity, it’s important to learn what you can do to ensure that you don’t hurt yourself in the process.
There are simple steps you can take to increase your own strength and flexibility and to ensure your safety and the safety of your loved one. Even if lifts and transfers are not part of your daily routine, knowing how to protect your back is important.
Maximize Your Physical Environment
Part of the key to safely assisting your loved one at home is to make sure that your home environment is accessible, comfortable, and free of safety hazards. “The physical environment should support the caregiving, not hinder it,” says Judith Sexton, foundation administrator for Home Instead Senior Care. Sexton suggests that family caregivers evaluate their living space for items that might pose a potential hazard when attempting to lift their family members or transfer them from one place in the home to another. “Maximizing the accessibility, safety, and comfort level of the home helps support the family caregiver as well as the care recipient,” she says.
Learn Proper Body Mechanics
“Body mechanics” is the term used to describe the way we use our bodies. The goal is to move in a safe and efficient manner. If you use your body incorrectly, you can put too much stress on certain structures and these may become damaged. The wear and tear accumulates over time. There are simple rules to follow to keep your body in the best possible alignment.
Principles of Proper Body Mechanics
To help ensure that you achieve proper body mechanics, it helps to have strength and flexibility.
Maintain proper posture while standing, sitting or lying down. Proper posture keeps stress to a minimum.
When standing, try to keep your head erect with your chin gently pulled back. Imagine a string attached to the top of your head, pulling it straight up.
Wear proper shoes to help you maintain correct posture. Keep heels low to prevent tension on your lower back.
When sitting, use a supportive chair and hold your head erect to prevent slumping. Use a lumbar or low-back cushion to help maintain the gentle curves of your spine. Armrests help support your body as well.
You will be surprised at how much better you may begin to feel just by incorporating these simple tips into your daily life.
Learn to Move and Lift Like a Physical Therapist
Proper body mechanics are the key to lifting your loved one correctly. Caregivers should try to improve and maintain their muscle strength and overall flexibility as much as possible to diminish the risk of injury. The following guidelines will help you:
To avoid back strain and injury:
Don’t lean forward from your hips during standing activities such as washing dishes, dressing, or brushing your teeth. This puts pressure on your lower back and may also affect your neck and shoulders. Instead, bend your knees, NOT YOUR BACK.
Don’t stand in a fixed position for too long. Try to put one foot on something (e.g., a box or stool) to redistribute your weight.
Don’t sit for extended periods of time. Try to get up every hour to walk or stretch.
Take Care of Yourself
Family caregivers in particular should try to take better care of themselves by examining their general fitness level and their lifestyle choices. It may be helpful to establish goals for yourself and to find a buddy who also wants to improve his/her fitness level.
One of the easiest ways to get exercise and to control weight is through a walking program. There are also simple exercises you can do at home to improve the strength of your entire body. These include squats or lunges, sit-ups, and lifting weights. None of these exercises need to cost you money or take a lot of time. Soup cans, water bottles, and bags of rice make excellent weights. If you don’t feel that you have time for any type of walking or strength-training program, how about making a commitment to stretch during every commercial that comes on the television? The key is to do something, no matter how small, to get yourself moving.
Along with physical activity, remember that it’s just as important to get enough rest and to maintain a balanced diet, both of which can be a challenge for a family caregiver. Make sure you get plenty of calcium and protein for strong bones and muscles.
Know When You Need Help
Knowing when you need help is important. Asking a neighbor or a friend to help you can make the difference in keeping an injury from occurring. Sometimes, a piece of durable medical equipment, such as a transfer belt, is all that you need to help you avoid injury.
If you do experience an injury while caring for your loved one, don’t ignore it or make light of it. It’s important to seek medical attention promptly. Most problems can be resolved, so seeking appropriate medical treatment should be a priority.
The role of caregiver is a physically demanding one. You can help ensure that you are there for your loved one tomorrow by taking steps today to provide assistance in the most efficient and effective manner possible.
When Lifting and Transferring a Person or Object:
Communicate with your loved one prior to attempting a lift/transfer.
Explain how the lift/transfer process will work and ask them to provide as much help as possible.
When lifting someone out of a chair or wheelchair, put one foot slightly behind the other, bend your knees to lower your body to the person who needs to be lifted, stick your buttocks out, and stand with a wide base of support.
It may be helpful to use a transfer (or “gait”) belt or even a regular belt when lifting — something to hold onto during the lift and transfer process.
Keep your arms slightly bent at the elbow, your wrists straight, your abdomen tight, and your chin in.
Use your legs and hips — not your back — to lift the other person, keeping them close to you and centered.
Turn your feet in the direction you are going and then gently lower the person by bending your knees, not your back.
Try not to carry too much weight at once whenever possible.
Push, don’t pull, heavy objects. Keep your knees slightly bent and your neck and back in proper alignment.
Keep weighted objects centered. Don’t carry things on one hip — this creates imbalances.
Try not to twist your body or trunk when reaching for something or picking something up. Instead, move your feet and turn your entire body in the direction you will be moving.