Lend a Hand – Tips for Safely Assisting Seniors
Being able to lend a helping hand is a fulfilling feeling for most people. Helping elders brings its own unique joy. If an older person needs a little assistance, it’s important to know what and what not to do.
PLEASE NOTE: Though not a substitute for professional medical advice, the information below can help create a framework for understanding the difference between safe and unsafe practices. ALWAYS CONSULT A PROFESSIONAL.
In the world of senior care and the broader healthcare industry, helping someone move from one position to another is called a transfer. Going from sitting to standing? That’s a transfer. Getting up out of bed? That’s one, too. Helping someone who has fallen? A scary but possible scenario, whether at home or at a senior center.
As people age, the chance they may need help with a transfer increases. Practicing safe techniques will help ensure that they (and you) stay free from new injuries.
SLOW DOWN AND PLAN AHEAD
No matter the circumstances, even during an emergency, rushing can sometimes do more harm than good. Take a breath and slow down before jumping in to help someone who has fallen or simply needs help moving from one chair to another.
KNOW SOME BASICS
If you’re helping someone get from one place to another, make sure the path from point A to point B is clear. If your loved one will be standing or walking, make sure they are wearing non-slip socks or shoes.
Take time to assess the need for any supplies. Make sure to have mobility aids handy (like a cane, walker or wheelchair if necessary). If transferring to or from a wheelchair, make sure to lock the breaks and lift/remove footrests. Mobility aids are highly common in senior living communities and senior centers.
If the person you’re helping has poor balance, you might want to use a wide belt to steady them and give you a good place to grip in case they start to fall. These aids are often called “gait belts” or “transfer belts” and can be found at pharmacies or other places where home medical supplies are sold.
With elderly care assistance, be sure to avoid pulling on someone’s limbs when trying to move them. Always choose to grip them around the hips or torso (or use a belt). Make sure to get quite close to the person you’re assisting and hold on firmly. Avoid having the person put their arms around your neck—this can quickly cause you to lose your own balance.
When transferring from a seated position, have your loved one move to the edge of the chair or bed if possible.
If the transfer requires lifting, bend at your hips or knees to protect your lower back. Keep your feet shoulder width apart and your back straight. When rotating, remember to pivot your body, not twist.
It’s important to work together and allow the person you’re helping to participate--let them do as much as they can on their own. It might be slower that way - that's okay. Verbalize your actions and narrate each step so they know what you’re doing and what’s coming next. Speak slowly and clearly.
Know the criteria for an emergency and don’t be reluctant to call 911 for assistance. If someone falls, check for bleeding or acute pain first. Ask the person if they are in pain, and if so, where. If you determine they are injured or in pain, can’t move a part of their body, or are nonresponsive, call 911.
If your loved one is experiencing new or advancing problems with balance, mobility, or loss of strength, make sure their physician is aware of the changes.
WATCH AND SHARE TUTORIALS
Though reading descriptions of techniques is helpful, visual instruction tends to make matters crystal clear.
Below are a few helpful videos demonstrating techniques:
ASK FOR FEEDBACK
Nurses, physical therapists, and other healthcare professionals are highly skilled in transfer techniques. If you’re finding yourself in more and more situations where you're providing physical assistance to another person, ask a healthcare professional for correct procedures, or to observe you in action and give pointers or feedback. If you take a little time to practice your skills and correct as necessary, you’ll be primed and ready when a real-world scenario presents itself.