Caregiver Injuries: Prevention and Recovery

Today my shoulder has recovered about 90% of its function. It’s taken three months to get this far. But I still have to be really careful when pulling Mom’s wheelchair. Twice I’ve proven how easy it is to re-injure myself by overdoing things. Caregivers of all types — family caregivers, nursing home employees — are very prone to injury. We need to put prevention first!

Between the Pond and the Woods

Statistics show that Nurse’s Aides, Nurses, Radiology Techs, and Physical Therapists rank in the top ten professions with the most injuries. Among family caregivers, Aging Care estimates that nearly 52 percent of caregivers have incurred musculoskeletal injuries while lifting or moving someone they care for.

Obviously we can use some practical advice on how to prevent injuring ourselves. Aging Care quotes Diane Sewell, an Assistant Director of Nursing at a long-term care center with 30 years of geriatric care experience. Sewell says, “Most of the causes of injuries to home caregivers are back injuries caused by improper body mechanics when it comes to lifting. If an elder is receiving physical therapy at a facility…they will often suggest that the caregiver join in a therapy session to learn how to correctly transfer the person in different care scenarios.” Home-based practices that can also help include:

  • Grab bars and toilet seat risers in the bathroom
  • Adjustable shower benches or chairs designed for bathtub use
  • Adequate activity planning to reduce the number of transfers needed
  • Proper training in positioning and ergonomic lifting procedures

Sewell suggests contacting County Health Nursing Departments because many of them provide community-based training on basic care giving skills for non-professionals. If your county has nothing to offer, another option is to call local hospitals or your Area Agency on Aging for information.

Aging Care also outlines a basic protocol for moving someone. Print it out and stick it on the fridge, or bathroom mirror, so you can remember the steps:

Before moving a person, make sure that feet are stable, and as close as possible to the person being lifted. Face the person to be lifted, slightly bend the knees and squat in preparation to lift. Hold in the abdominals and keep the back straight. This will add lifting strength and encourage additional power from legs and arms. Maintain a position as close to the person as possible so that excess strain is not placed on the back by leaning over. 

When turning a loved one from back to side, distribute weight equally between feet and try to avoid extended forward bending movements as much as possible. Point feet toward the person being lifted. If possible, place one foot in between the person’s feet and one foot to the outside for optimal stability. Attempt to lift using a smooth, flowing motion, pushing upward with leg muscles.

When possible, alleviate awkward body positions while bathing, dressing and lifting a loved one. Avoiding twisting, bending, and stooping positions will help to alleviate strain not only on the spine, but also on muscles and joints.

My shoulder injury occurred in June. I wasn’t even lifting my mom at the time. I was cleaning out her old home which we rent to help cover Mom’s medical costs. In addition to my usual job and family responsibilities, I was acting as property manager, rental agent, and cleaning service. I’m probably lucky that I only injured one shoulder. Recovering has been hard. I’ve tried massage, acupuncture, therapeutic exercise, reiki, etc. Right now I feel much better than I did in July.  But every time I adjust Mom in her wheelchair, I have to remind myself to do it without yanking that shoulder. I hope that by Halloween I’ll be able to raise my arm without worrying that I’ll mess up the healing process.

Okay, enough complaining. We know that our loved ones suffer a great deal because of their disease. But we can really enhance our ability to care for them if we learn to prevent injuring ourselves.

Dementia and The Broken Clock

Time, time, time. Caregivers measure it in minutes, hours, days. But for someone with dementia, time is like a broken clock. It’s a concept that no longer seems useful or needed.

Between the Pond and the Woods

I’m the kind of person who has spent decades running around trying to fit just one more thing into already busy days. One consequence of this habit is that I’m often late. There just isn’t enough time in the universe for me to complete the tasks I set for myself and still be punctual. I sincerely regret the number of times I’ve left good friends waiting for me. But when I’m with my mom, I have the opposite problem. Ever busy me finds it nearly impossible to fill time spent alone with her in a satisfying way.

Usually I tell Mom stories. Sometimes she’s lucid enough to laugh or say yes or offer a one syllable comment. But more often she’s only engaged with me for a few minutes before she goes into Sleep mode — that restful state that resembles your car’s neutral gear. How can you use this time to feel like you’re connecting with someone whose reality is so different from your own?

I often play music to get us both tuned into the same frequency. The sound of Chuck Berry or the Everly Brothers will keep her attention for a little while. Now and then she tries to clap and can occasionally get her hands lined up the right way. But after a song or two, she goes back to her netherworld — unless the music is very uplifting. Tunes that keep her involved include “Rockin’ Robin” and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.  “Happy” is so infectious I have seen it revive a room full of dementia patients for the full four minutes it plays. The song has an almost magical ability to make people smile and move.

Good times come and go but there are still many frustrating moments when you want to pull a dementia patient in and they just stay on their distant planet. What do you do to invite your loved one into your world? What tricks do you use to connect with them when the wires are frayed and their glance keeps moving to some far off place?