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Lifting Dementia Patients

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.

Lifting Dementia Patients

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.

Family Support for Caregivers

Family support means the world to me as I strive to take care of my mom. Yesterday I was lucky to have many family members come to offer their support and love to mom and our household. There was a period in my life when I didn’t fully grasp the value of these moments. Thank goodness my eyes are now open.

Family Support for Caregivers

Family support for caregivers is essential. Taking care of a sick person can drain your spirit, even when you take care of yourself and protect your health. Over the past few weeks, I’ve suffered from strained back muscles and general fatigue. Yet for months I’ve been dreaming of a big fall equinox party with a bonfire under a bright moon. It took a lot of effort, but we managed to have this gathering yesterday. We celebrated my mom’s tremendous ability to survive and be happy despite advanced dementia.

It was so touching to see aunts, cousins, neighbors, friends, and children come together for this all-day affair. We had to do it before the cold weather kills our petunias and steals our leaves. Everyone shared food and drinks, stories and tears. It was such a special occasion. The last time we gathered like this, my mom pretended to sleep. Now we’ve learned how to manage my mom’s “tricks” so she can connect with people who travelled far to spend time here. It was beautiful to see her hold her sister’s hand, laughing at the sound of a familiar voice.

I think it’s very possible that life is best savored through occasions when everyone can share their gifts (emotional and material) with loved ones. Caregivers are tired and overwhelmed as a group. We do too much; we can’t manage everything. When family members have a chance to offer their love and support, it’s almost better than a vacation. They leave an echo of their energy behind them. That feeling can sustain us during the next period of exhausting effort. I can still see the smiling faces and remember the glow of the campfire under the moonlight. Even the most difficult struggles have their moments of bliss. Tomorrow I’ll toil, but today I rest on the strength of what others have brought to us.