As a caregiver, you’re already doing much of the heavy lifting just maintaining your older loved one’s quality of life, health and safety. Unfortunately, with two-thirds of seniors 65 and over considered overweight or obese (defined as a BMI of 30 or above), the heavy lifting you’re doing may also extend to the actual physical work of helping your senior each day.
Whether it’s a simple task like helping them out of a chair or a complex job like turning them in bed when they return home after a surgery, most caregivers have some physical labor involved in their responsibilities. Plus, 34% of caregivers are over the age of 65, which is part of the reason that 52% of caregivers will be injured at some point while lifting the older person in their care.
If your caregiving responsibilities involve physically moving a loved one, take these steps to stay safe:
Use devices to help with getting up and down
A number of devices are available that allow your older loved one to do some work themselves when getting up and down. Even when they have difficulty moving around, maintaining some independence can make an older person feel optimistic.
These can include:
- Grab bars in the shower
- Adjustable seat in the shower
- Adjustable seat for the toilet
- Bed assist rail
- Standing assist pole
- Walking stick or cane
- Rising seat
Always be nearby when they’re using these devices in case they need help.
Be conscious of how you move
When lifting an overweight senior, think about how you’re moving and using your body to avoid injury. The most common places caregivers experience pain or injury are their backs, shoulders and neck. Injuries occur most often when they’re helping someone out of their bed or out of a chair, or are bending over them for an extended period—for example, when they’re helping them bathe or use the toilet.
To stay as safe as possible, follow these tips:
- Exercise regularly: Work on upper body strength and leg muscles to increase your lifting capacity, and remember these tried-and-true techniques:
- Lift with your legs, not your back.
- Keep your feet apart for better balance.
- Stay as close as possible to the person when you lift.
- Lift by the hips, not arms or other parts of the body.
- Take your time!
- Wear comfortable shoes: Trainers, running shoes or support sandals are the best options.
- Communicate clearly: Let your loved one know what you will do before you do it so they can work with you to get up.
- Declutter your space: The less in your way when lifting and moving your older family member, the better.
- Get them moving, too: Help them build strength a few days a week. There are videos, online classes and card games for chair exercises and other senior-focused exercises.
Consider getting a patient lift
If lifting your loved one is not physically possible, consider getting a lift. All lifts have a lifting mechanism and a sling that safely lifts overweight individuals up and out of their bed or chair. These are especially helpful for overweight people with mobility issues or – as is sometimes the case of those with dementia or Alzheimer’s – who are resistant to assistance.
Two types of lifts will work for nearly every overweight or obese senior:
- Manual lifts are just as described. The caregiver manually operates the lift, and most manual lifts can accommodate up to a 400-pound individual.
- Electric lifts are the easiest to operate and will be the safest option for both the caregiver and the older adult.
Get some professional training
Diane Sewell, an assistant director of nursing at a long-term care center with 30 years of geriatric care experience, told Aging Care, “Non-professional caregivers are responsible for obtaining the education they need to properly care for loved ones at home. Many county health nursing departments offer community-based resources that offer training on basic caregiving skills for non-professionals. Another option is to call local hospitals for information, who might even suggest professional training through a Certified Nurse’s Aide class.”
Training and information can be the best way to understand the challenges of lifting and assisting an overweight senior.