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.

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