Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Use Safe Body Mechanics to Help Loved Ones

Whether helping your loved one into the car, transferring from a wheelchair to the car, or handling a mobility device such as a wheelchair or walker, it is important to use proper body mechanics to avoid injuries.  Many injuries for both caregiver and care receiver are preventable.   Several suggestions that will help your loved one get in or out of the car safely follow: 

Suggestions to keep your body safe:
·         Plan the lift by checking the area for slippery spots or possible tripping hazards. 
·         Wear appropriate footwear.  Non-skid heels and soles will be safer for both you and for the person you are assisting. 
·         Use proper stance.  Spread your feet to a width that feels comfortable – usually shoulders’ width apart. 
·         Keep your head and body as upright as possible. 
·         Lower your hips to the height of the person or object you intend to lift by bending your knees and hips rather that your back. 
·         Carry weight as close to your center of gravity as possible. 
·         Get close to the person or object you plan to lift.  Bear weight on your forearms rather than your hands. 
·         Lift with your legs.
·         Do not attempt to lift with your back alone. 
·         When lifting, do not rotate your spine.  Shift the position of your feet to turn (pivot). 
·         Know your limits.
·         Push or pull an object instead of lifting whenever you can.

When transferring and positioning from a wheelchair to a car:

  • Have the person you are helping wear a gait belt during transfers, if one is available.  A gait belt is a safety device used for moving a person from one place to another.  The belt may be used to help hold up a weak person while he or she walks and decreases the chance of injury of a helper hurting his or her back while transferring a passenger. 
  • Open the car door.  Stand with your back to the inside of the car door and pull the wheelchair toward you between the car door and seat.
  • Talk to your loved one through the transfer process step by step, so that he or she can assist if possible.
  • Hold on to the gait belt and help him or her to a standing position.  Use your legs to pull up for strength.
  • Have your loved one lean his or her weight forward toward you, put his or her arms around your shoulders (not your neck), if possible.
  • Carefully pivot yourself and your loved one so that his or her backside is toward the inside of the car.
  • Help him or her sit with their legs still out of the car.  Be careful that his or her head clears the door frame while sitting down.
  • Help your loved one move their legs into the car once they are sitting and have been given a moment to gain balance.  A swivel cushion is helpful for this.
  • Assist with the seat belt, and close the door before going to the driver’s seat.
Make certain that your loved one’s seat belt is securely fastened while in transit and that he or she does not unfasten it until the vehicle stops.  Provide assistance when entering or exiting the vehicle, but do not make them feel rushed.  Give your loved one extra time to do what is needed.

If your loved one has a stroke and has right-side or left-side weakness, seat his or her affected side nearest the door.  For example, if a left-sided weakness, then seat on the driver side of the back seat.  This can aid balance and allows you to position the weak side into the car and also encourages your loved one to assist.  The shoulder strap on the seat belt can assist with balance in the back seat.  It may also be beneficial to keep a pillow in the car for positioning.

It can be difficult to assist someone who has a stroke or limited movement or understanding to get positioned comfortably in the car, especially if he or she cannot assist.  A few helpful hints:

  • Have your loved one wear a gait belt to provide you with a secure place to hold while assisting.
  • Use a swivel cushion to swing his or her legs while in a sitting position on the car seat.
  • Place a towel on a heavy duty plastic bag on your cloth seat or directly on your leather seat.  Then, help your loved one sit on the towel covered seat.  Next, go to the other side of the care and pull toward you.  The plastic bag makes it easier to slide him or her further into the car.  Finally, pivot their legs into the car.
I hope these suggestions help promote a safe and positive experience for both driver and passenger.

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