Lifting a dementia patient can be tricky business. During most of 2015, we’ve been lucky. Since February, my Mom’s been able to support her own weight and walk with assistance. But now she’s developed something we call “mermaid legs”. That’s our non-scientific term for collapsing limbs.
Mom’s mermaid legs first appeared this summer. She only weighs about a hundred pounds, so I’ve always lifted her out of bed in the morning. Once on her feet, my mom could take a supported turkey trot to her wheelchair. Even when wobbly, her walk was extremely helpful since the wheelchair wouldn’t fit through her bedroom doorway.
During August, however, we had a few episodes when Mom would stand for a step or two, then suddenly fold her legs up. The need for me to grab her sinking body weight put a terrible strain on my lower back. As long as it only happened occasionally, I could use yoga to heal my back between lifts. But in October, Mom’s legs were folding nearly every day and I felt like a broken doll.
Fortunately, we got approval through my mother’s insurance plan to have a physical therapist come to our home. The insurance provider approved six visits which began a couple weeks ago. The therapists offer range of motion treatments to my mom and teach us how to administer them, too. They also removed the external “steering” wheels from my mom’s chair since she lacks the ability to “drive” it. Now her wheelchair fits through the door and we can park it right next to her bed. Even if she can’t walk in the morning, I only have to lift her a few inches from the bed to her chair. My spine is so grateful! I no longer walk around stretching my back muscles all day. It’s also easier to sleep at night because I’m no longer in pain.
It’s pretty common for dementia patients to have problems with walking. My mom developed a “cautious gait” long ago. Her balance was off and so was her compass. She preferred to follow someone so she could be sure she was going in the right direction. According to Patient Info, a British site that provides detailed health information, frontal gait disorder is common in Alzheimer’s patients. The degree of impairment may depend on “the severity of the disease…and factors such as age, sex, depression, obesity, and the presence of co-morbidities“. These things have a tendency to get worse over time.
If your loved one is losing their walking skills or can’t support their own weight, I encourage you to find resources to help you learn to lift them safely. Check your insurance plan and your Area Agency on Aging. In extreme cases, you may qualify to get a medically approved lift for your home.
I know that in many ways I’m lucky because my mom is tiny. There are lots of wives out there lifting husbands twice their weight. Caregivers: get the help you need so you can move loved ones around in a way that’s safe for them and for you. If you get hurt, everybody suffers.