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Caregivers

How to Avoid Injury as a Caretaker for the Elderly

Elderly caregivers have a challenging job. Each day, caregivers may be required to constantly bend over, twist their bodies, or pull, push, or lift heavy objects. All this can take a toll. Besides the physical demands of caring for an elderly adult, caregivers face risks to their mental and emotional well-being, including developing conditions like caregiver stress syndrome. Learning how to be a caregiver for the elderly doesn’t just mean learning how to care for your patient; it also means figuring out your limits and keeping yourself fit enough to care for someone else.

8  Tips for Safely Administering Care To The Elderly

Utilize Assistive Devices Whenever Possible 

Elderly caregivers have jobs that can be pretty exhausting, not to mention punishing on their bodies over time. Fortunately, technology has a way of making difficult physical tasks much easier to do. Take advantage of it!

If you work with patients who need support moving to and from their bed, use transfer boards, and gait belts to make the process go smoothly for you and your patient. Not only will this make the process less stressful for your client, but it’ll also mean less strain on your back.

Reachers and grabbers can be invaluable tools for both caregivers and their patients. By giving patients tools to reach things far away, you’re empowering them by giving them more control over their environment. You’re also cutting down on the number of times you need to bend over and reach for things yourself.

If you’re an at home elderly caregiver, home hospital beds with head, foot, height, and tilt adjustments can make things much easier for caregivers by reducing the amount of physical exertion needed to reposition patients. Beds that include remote controls even allow patients to reposition themselves.

Know Your Limits 

It’s crucial to take care of yourself as well as your patient. You are not invincible, but learning to recognize your limits and intervening before you injure yourself or experience burnout can help make you more resilient. The more resilient you are, the better care you can give your patient.

Burnout is mental and physical exhaustion caused by the everyday stressors experienced by caregivers. The emotional symptoms can range from anxiety and depression to emotional numbness, also known as “flat affect.” Burnout occurs when caregivers want to muster up the motivation to care for their clients, but they simply don’t have the energy. 

Burnout can also cause physical exhaustion, increased irritability, resentment, forgetfulness, and even sleep issues. Sometimes burnout also goes hand in hand with guilt because caregivers feel they’re letting their clients and their families down.

Everyone has a bad day now and again. If your bad days seem to be getting more frequent and/or worse, don’t ignore them. Take action before it’s too late.

Get Help When Needed 

If you need help, get it! 

It can be tempting to ignore signs of physical and emotional wear and tear on yourself, to put the needs of your patient above your own. As noble as this may sound in your head, in reality, that mindset sets you up to be a less effective senior caregiver. Ignoring the warning signs when the stress of caregiving gets too much to bear can affect your motivation to take care of your own physical and mental needs, as well as those of the person or people under your care. This can lead to carelessness that leads to mistakes that can negatively impact the quality of your treatment. It can even affect your personal life.

Don’t put it off, especially if you notice pervasive problems like burnout or physical issues like a sore back that seems to be getting worse. Get the help you need when you need it. Remember, the job of an elderly caregiver is to help someone take care of themselves. You can’t take care of other people if you have needs that are going unaddressed.

Lift With Your Legs, Not Your Back 

Senior citizen caregivers are taught to lift with their legs, not their backs, for a reason! Our bodies can do a lot, but if you don’t take precautions to reduce the wear and tear on your body typical for those who regularly care for the elderly, you may end up with a severe injury.

Bending down, especially to lift heavy things, is a high-risk activity, especially if done improperly. It puts a strain on your body, especially your back. Back injuries are debilitating, and recovery from them takes time.

If you have to set a heavy object down, squat your knees and hips while keeping your back straight.

Center Your Feet For The Greatest Support 

Keeping your body supported is crucial while working physically demanding jobs, including being an elderly caregiver. In addition to lifting with your legs, remembering to center your feet can help support your back and prevent serious injury in the future, especially when lifting heavy objects.

After confirming that your feet are centered, make sure they’re also shoulder-width apart when lifting heavy objects. This will ensure that you maintain a balanced stance so that you don’t disproportionately put stress on specific parts of your body.

Keep Objects and People Close to Your Center of Gravity When Lifting 

Whether you’re an at home elderly caregiver or a caregiver working at a retirement community, lifting heavy things is a regular part of the job. Unfortunately, this is how many common workplace injuries happen.

A good way to prevent injuries associated with lifting heavy objects and people is to keep whatever you’re lifting close to your center of gravity; this means keeping whatever you are lifting as close as possible to your chest and hips to minimize the strain inflicted on your body. 

If you have to bend down while caring for a patient, do not bend your waist or back if you can help it. Bend your knees and tighten your stomach muscles as you lift the object. Hold it as close to your body as possible. Lift slowly, using your hips and knees, and don’t bend forward.

This goes for lifting patients, too. Patients sometimes need assistance getting out of bed, for example. In this situation, holding the patient as close to your body as possible can help distribute their weight in a way that doesn’t cause injury to your back, neck, knees, or shoulders.

In circumstances in which you have to lift a human being–as opposed to inanimate objects, of course–good communication can also help tremendously.

Communicate Your Intentions With the Person You are Assisting 

When assisting an elderly patient, especially someone who has experienced a loss of mobility in old age, communicating your intentions can help you avoid serious injury.

For example: if you have to lift a patient out of their bed, tell them precisely what you’re going to do before you do it. Prompting the patient by saying things like, “I am going to lift you off the bed now” lets them know what to expect, making them feel more comfortable and confident that what you’re about to do is for their benefit. Aside from that, it also prepares them to do what they can to help by doing things like bracing themselves against your body or avoiding movements that make the task more physically strenuous, which makes it less likely for you to end up with severe caregiving injuries.

Ensure That You Have The Emotional Support You Need 

Your patients aren’t the only ones who need support. We all need help from time to time. All of us need different kinds of support for various reasons. Your mental health is equally as important as your physical health, and like your physical health, it requires regular care and maintenance to avoid breaking down.

Creating routines and planning your day out can help reduce the strain commonly associated with working as an elderly caregiver. Although you can’t plan for everything, planning things you can control helps create comfort through predictability for both you and your patient. It also helps create boundaries that enable you to ensure that your own needs are met.

Remember to ensure that you have the emotional support you need. Although HIPAA laws preclude discussion with friends and loved ones about specific topics about your patients, seeking support through friends and loved ones in legally-compliant ways is an essential part of maintaining your mental health.

Communities exist to help support caregivers on social media and the physical world. Family Caregiver Alliance, for example, is an organization that provides information and support to elderly caregivers. 

If you find yourself experiencing burnout or other problems that affect your work or personal life, consider working with a therapist. Although stigma against therapy causes some to be hesitant or even dismissive, remember that your health and safety–not to mention those of your patients–are more critical.

Remember, you can’t be an elderly caregiver if you don’t take care of yourself. Take advantage of every resource available to ensure you remain healthy and strong for your patients.

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