Caring for an elderly or disabled loved one is enormously rewarding, but it can also be hard physical work. In many ways, that’s a good thing: on average, caregivers get more exercise than similarly aged non-caregivers. Unfortunately, they are also far more likely to suffer from injury, musculoskeletal discomfort, and joint pain.
Unpaid caregivers of all ages are at risk of overexerting themselves, tackling physical tasks without adequate preparation, and failing to follow the best practices of trained medical professionals. That’s particularly true of new caregivers, who may have no previous experience of the physical demands they face. They are also frequently unaware of the range of equipment that professionals use to mitigate risk and reduce physical strain.
Let’s start by looking at the types of physical work you may experience while caring for a loved one before examining some of the equipment that can help you cope while staying safe.
Everyday Physical Tasks Expected of Caregivers
The precise mix of tasks you face depends on the condition of the person you care for, but most caregivers will experience:
- Lifting heavy weights: You may be expected to lift weights ranging from a few pounds to the weight of the person you are caring for. You may need to support your loved ones as they stand, sit, or are transferred to a wheelchair.
- Pushing and pulling heavy objects: This might include moving equipment or moving the patient on their bed. Reaching for heavy objects to push or pull is a major cause of back injuries among caregivers.
- Twisting, turning, and bending: These may seem like small everyday movements, but they can be challenging for older caregivers. They are also a common source of injury, and bending to lift is a high-risk activity unless carried out properly. In addition to lifting with the knees and not the back, nurses and professional caregivers are trained to move their whole body to face a task, rather than twisting to reach objects.
- Reaching up or out to the front: This might include reaching to treat or move a patient, repositioning equipment, or while making the bed. The combination of regular bending and reaching can cause back strain, especially if heavy objects are involved.
You may also find yourself standing for long periods, carrying lots of equipment and medication, and balancing trays with food and other items. For a healthy person, none of these tasks may seem demanding, but the strain of repeated lifting, pushing and pulling, bending, and twisting adds up over time.
Equipment to Help Caregivers with Physical Tasks
Caregiver equipment in this category has two primary roles: to reduce the amount of physical strain on your body and to amplify your abilities so that you can accomplish tasks that would otherwise be impossible.
For example, a Hoyer lift, a type of hydraulic lift with a sling attached to a gantry, can help to lift patients from their bed for wheelchair transfers or to get them into a standing position. A Hoyer lift allows you to help a patient who is too heavy for you to manage alone without straining your back and muscles.
Other types of equipment you should consider are:
- Transfer boards: Transfer boards are stiff boards used to ease the transfer of wheelchair users from their bed or chair to a wheelchair. They bridge the gap between the patient and the wheelchair’s seat so the user can slide across without being lifted.
- Gait belts: A gait belt is a wide fabric belt that the patient wears around their waist. They are used to help patients with mobility or balance issues to stand up from their bed or wheelchair and to walk. Unlike a lift, gait belts aren’t used to hoist the patient but to safely provide support and guidance without putting too much strain on the caregiver or the patient.
- Home hospital beds: Modern home hospital beds include motorized adjustments that can raise or lower the head, foot, or the whole bed. They significantly reduce the physical demands on caregivers when sitting patients up, positioning them comfortably, and getting them into and out of bed.
We’ve left the most essential advice until last: to cope with caregiving’s physical demands, you must look after your own health. That might mean investing in equipment to help you avoid injury, but it also means ensuring you eat properly, hydrate, and get enough rest.
You can’t take care of a loved one unless you take care of yourself.