NFCA: Learn to Help Others Without Hurting Yourself

By Sandy Padwo Rogers

When was the last time you had to lift your loved one out of a bed or a chair? Did it make you wonder if you were going to end up in bed yourself with a bad back? If you’re like many family caregivers, one of the challenges you face each and every day is how to help your loved one with the activities of daily living without jeopardizing your own physical health.

Because caregiving can be such a strenuous physical activity, it’s important to learn what you can do to ensure that you don’t hurt yourself in the process. There are simple steps you can take to increase your own strength and flexibility and to ensure your safety and the safety of your loved one. Even if lifts and transfers are not part of your daily routine, knowing how to protect your back is important.

Maximize Your Physical Environment

Part of the key to safely assisting your loved one at home is to make sure that your home environment is free of safety hazards, accessible, and comfortable. “The physical environment should support the caregiving, not hinder it,” says Judith Sexton, foundation administrator for Home Instead Senior Care. Sexton suggests that family caregivers evaluate their living space for items that might pose a potential hazard when attempting to lift their family members or transfer them from one place in the home to another. “Maximizing the accessibility, safety, and comfort level of the home helps support the family caregiver as well as the care recipient,” she says.

Learn Proper Body Mechanics

“Body mechanics” is the term used to describe the way we use our bodies. The goal is to move in a safe and efficient manner. If you use your body incorrectly, you can put too much stress on certain structures and these may become damaged. The wear and tear accumulates over time. “You may not even feel the pain until the damage is done,” says Cindy Kardeman, a physical therapist and consultant with Dave Reynolds and Associates, personal fitness specialists in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Kardeman explains: “By keeping proper body mechanics, the bones, muscles and supporting structures maintain their proper alignment, thus allowing them to produce the most strength and stability in doing a particular activity.” According to Kardeman, there are simple rules to follow to keep your body in the best possible alignment.

Principles of Proper Body Mechanics

· To help ensure that you achieve proper body mechanics, it helps to have strength and flexibility.

· Maintain proper posture while standing, sitting or lying down. Proper posture keeps stress to a minimum.

· When standing, try to keep your head erect with your chin gently pulled back. Imagine a string attached to the top of your head, pulling it straight up.

· Wear proper shoes to help you maintain correct posture. Keep heels low to prevent tension on your lower back.

· When sitting, use a supportive chair and hold your head erect to prevent slumping. Use a lumbar or low-back cushion to help maintain the gentle curves of your spine. Armrests help support your body as well.

You will be surprised at how much better you may begin to feel just by incorporating these simple tips into your daily life. “As most people apply proper body mechanics to their everyday activities, they start to feel better and move more efficiently,” says Kardeman.

Read more here at the National Family Caregiver Association website.

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