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Injury Prevention for Caregivers

Caring for a loved one can be physically demanding for the caregiver and, in some cases, can cause injuries. It is important to know the demands and have a good idea of your own physical capacity before taking on caregiving duties.

"Any time you have to move someone there is significant risk for back injury," explains Jim Todd, physical therapist and ergonomic specialist for Home Health United (HHU). "The number one risk factor is forward bending and number two is over exertion."

Some injuries result from an accumulation of light activities over time, such as bending to clean someone's feet or tie their shoes. It is important to practice correct posture and maintain that posture while doing caregiving activities. Instead of bending forward, squat to reach someone’s feet or to lift something heavy.

One-time over exertion also results in many injuries. How do you know if you are over exerting yourself? The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health recommends lifting no more than 25 pounds at a time.

"If you have to lift your loved one on a regular basis, you may want to consider purchasing and using a gait belt, a transfer board or a mechanical lifting device," Todd suggested. HHU carries these items in their Home Medical Equipment stores. For people who have trouble standing up from a seated position HHU carries a variety of liftchairs and other stand-assist equipment in addition to many items to make caregiving safer.

As for proper lifting techniques, Todd teaches the following:

  1. Do not over exert
  2. Stand close with your legs apart
  3. Bend your knees as far as comfortable
  4. Lift with your leg and back muscles
  5. Lift slowly, do not jerk
  6. Avoid twisting

Caregivers should also take care of themselves. You can increase your capacity and tolerance by strengthening your back and abdominal muscles, stretching to increase flexibility, and with cardiovascular conditioning. Be sure you make regular visits to your own physician and take your medications.