Thursday, April 2, 2009

When Caregiving Gets Dangerous

Nearly everyday I meet someone who is a primary caregiver for a family member. Sometimes the caregiver is a strapping young son or daughter, teenage or adult grandkid, neice or nephew who lifts weights on the side, so lifting dad or grandma off the floor or a chair is not as much of a challenge as it might be for others. Often, the caregiver is a Boomer, still filled with plenty of strength and vitality, patience and curiosity, but the level of assistance now required to help a loved one out of the chair or onto the toilet is increasing and starting to take its toll. Quite frequently, the caregiver is a spouse, an aging man or woman taking care of his or her spouse. Caregiving gets most frightening when the physical abilities between caregiver and the person being cared are separated by a frail and thin line. Many individuals do not have the luxury of hiring folks to assist with caregiving in the home, and while some services are covered by insurance, there are more limitations than not.

Your risks as a caregiver increase the more you find yourself involved with lifting or as your loved one becomes more and more dependent on your physical strength to get through the daily activities of living. And if you are caring for an elder, falling is the number one reason for injury in the home among that demographic. Your risks include falling yourself as you attempt to lift someone or injuring your back or other critical parts of your body. I met someone recently who did not know her own heart was weakening and she suffered a heart attack while trying to lift her disabled sister from bed. This situation created all kinds of havoc in the family, as the primary caregiver became incapacitated.

While good judgment is always the guiding light, there are a few tools you should know about as a caregiver who must give signifcant levels of physical assistance to someone. From the simple to sophistocated, these tools help preserve you as the caregiver, a gift almost as important as your already generous act of caring for your loved one.

  1. Gait Belt: This is one of the simplest and yet most effective tools available to you. It is most appropriate for those who have some mobility and can provide some effort when standing and walking. You place the belt around the waist and use it (instead of pants or blouses) to hold onto from the back to give the individual a bit more assistance. You can buy one with handles or purchase the handles separately and attach to a regular gait belt. Gait belts are wider than dress belts, so provide more protection to the individual as you grab and grip them at the waist.

  2. Lift chairs, tub lifts, stair lifts and vertical platform lifts: There are a variety of products that help prevent falling in the first place. A reclining lift chair, for example, lifts the individual to a height that makes the transfer out of the chair infinitely simpler for both the individual and the caregiver. A tub lift makes the bath tub safe again. I know a family that came in horrified to have discovered their mom crawling backwards down the basement stairs to do the laundry. Installing a stair lift immediately restored confidence to the family that their mother would be safe, and gave the mother her independence to continue to do the daily chores she loved doing. Installing grab bars, safety poles and bed assists is also a great way to offer prevention without taking away freedom.

  3. Patient lifts: This category refers to hydraulic or electric lift mechanisms that provide safety for the individual and the caregiver when the individual is unable to do many of the activities of daily living, such as getting up, laying down, toileting and maneuvering around the home. The traditional patient lift, often called a "hoyer," named after the originator of the lift, involves putting a sling under the individual's buttocks to lift and guide the individual to a different position, from seating to lying to toileting. Considered one of the most effective lifting devices, the "hoyer" has more recent competition from lifting devices that allow the individual to be in slightly different positions while being lifted. As you might imagine, not everyone prefers the sensation of hanging from a sling while being moved around a room. Stand-assist lifts help you lift someone from sitting into standing positions. A sling is applied to the back of the individual while the legs and knees are supported with padded areas at the front of the lift. The "Easy Pivot," a product designed by a Colorado engineer who became paraplegic allows you to secure a sling under the buttocks and lift the individual while he or she leans over a padded area. The leaning position gives the individual the sense of stability while being moved, especially since it is designed for those who have some strength to hold onto the padded structure. Straps and other safety features on all lifting mechanisms give you and the person you care for security and confidence that the transferring operation will go smoothly and safely.

Are your caregiving responsibilities endangering you? Maybe it is time to pause and consider your safety, too. For more conversation about these products and others to make the home safe, contact or visit our flagship location.

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