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Posted: February 07, 2005

Practical Caregiving

Caregiver?s Lament: Oh, My Aching Back!

When I was taking care of Mom and Dad, they would sometimes end up on the floor ? and with good reason. Sometimes Mom would get tired of walking and just sit down. She had Alzheimer?s disease and had regressed to being a little girl. Little girls sit down when they are tired of walking and their parents pick them up and carry them. Dad would get dizzy or black out and end up on the floor.

This happened often enough, and I was concerned enough, that I?m sure some of you must be experiencing the same thing. While the incident is common, there?s a right way and wrong way to deal with it.

Actually, there are a multitude of reasons why your loved one may end up on the floor, but the end result is the same: you need to get them off the floor and into a chair or bed. I hope you don?t do what I did. Sometimes there was no one around to help me, so I picked them up myself, injuring my back. Each time I thought my back healed, but now ? some years later -- I am starting to see the results of hurting my back ? and believe me, it isn?t fun.

We?ve all heard that we are supposed to pick up things using our legs instead of our back, but that isn?t always possible. And we?ve all heard that we aren?t supposed to pick up anything that is too heavy for us, but that also isn?t always possible. What do you do when it isn?t possible to do things the correct way? What can you do to protect yourself? After all, your loved one depends on you to take care of them. Sometimes you feel it?s more important to do something right away for them (like I did when I picked up my parents off the floor), than to worry about a little pain yourself.

To be honest, I was the only person making the choice between picking them up off the floor or taking care of myself. There were alternatives. I just didn?t see them. I want you to find other ways of doing things. Hurting yourself doesn?t have to be one of the choices you make ? and ultimately it will affect your caregiving.

Let?s look at ways to determine what you should and should not do:

  • If you try to pick up something or someone and you have to strain, it?s probably too heavy for you. Don?t lift it yourself.
  • Look around you. Is there enough space to safely pick up your loved one?
  • Is the floor wet or cluttered? If it is, clear the problem before you do anything.
  • Don?t try to pick up something heavy if you are overly tired or weak (and we all know how caregiving tires us!).
  • Don?t rely on a back belt to completely protect your back. It may help support your back, but you can still hurt your back while wearing one.
  • You are not Superman. Don?t try to be superhuman.

You are at risk of causing yourself back pain:

  • If you are trying to pull a person reclining in bed into a sitting position.
  • If you are trying to transfer a person from a bed to a chair.
  • If you are leaning over a person for a long period of time.
  • If you trying to pick up someone or something that is too heavy for you.
  • If you are trying to pick someone up from the floor or any other very low position.

Exactly how to you keep from hurting your back?

  • Learn how to do things correctly. Talk to someone who is trained in taking care of someone. Have them show you how to do things the correct way. There are safe ways to do things.
  • Take a course offered in caregiving. These are often targeted to the professional caregiver, but you can learn a lot too. Call your local hospital or a home health agency to find out who offers courses in your area.
  • Get the equipment you need. Quite often insurance or Medicare will pay for this equipment, but not always. If you can?t afford to pay for it yourself, there are organizations that will help you with equipment needs. Call your local hospital or home health agency to find out about such organizations in your area.
  • When you are moving someone, always keep them close to your body.
  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Use the muscles in your legs rather than your back, if it is possible.
  • When you lift or move a person, try not to twist or turn you back.
  • Don?t bend from the waist.
  • If the person is too heavy, get help. Call a neighbor, friend, family member or ambulance.

Remember, if you hurt yourself, you can?t do what is necessary to take care of your loved one. Don?t take that chance, and don?t take the chance of doing what I did. I?m paying for it now with pain and discomfort. I won?t become an invalid, but I do hurt and need to take steps to stop hurting and continue living a normal life.

In summary, my advice to you: learn how to do things the right way ? and protect yourself!

© 2005 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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Please send me your questions, comments and issues regarding the practical side of caregiving at ASKJEAN@caregivershome.com, and remember to take advantage of our professionals and experts in the Ask an Expert section of our website. You'll find it in the left column on our homepage.

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