Every day, countless family caregivers struggle to reposition and transfer seniors with limited mobility. Many are performing these tasks without any help from additional people or assistive equipment, risking their own health and safety and that of their loved ones. Falls, back injuries and chronic pain are common results of manually lifting mobility challenged seniors. A patient lift can help make transfers much safer and easier for everyone involved in a senior’s daily care. Best of all, these pieces of equipment are covered by Medicare Part B.

When Is a Patient Lift Necessary?

While there are many different types of lifts on the market, one of these devices is usually recommended for patients with extremely limited mobility, poor balance, minimal strength and/or weight-bearing restrictions. The more compromised a senior’s ability is to independently sit up, stand up and ambulate safely, the more likely it is that they would benefit from a mechanical lift.

A patient’s cognitive status is an important consideration as well. For example, one might think that a senior’s functional abilities would negate the need for a mechanical transfer. But, if this person has a neurological condition and is unable to comprehend directions and/or physically follow them, then transfers may be best completed using a patient lift. This is often the case in patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological conditions that affect cognition and/or motor function like stroke.

Patient lifts hold immense benefits for caregivers as well. So many people singlehandedly attempt transferring their loved ones in scenarios where additional hands-on help and durable medical equipment are needed. In fact, transfers are such a risky activity for patients and staff alike that hospitals and senior living facilities implement strict rules on the level of assistance they can provide and policies for how transfers can be done. For example, most independent living communities provide zero help with mobility and transfers. Once a resident’s mobility declines, the community will usually recommend moving them to a higher-level care facility.

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Types of Patient Lifts

There are several different types of patient lifts and accessories that are meant to compensate for different limitations in mobility and assist with specific activities of daily living. Most lifts come in both manual and electric varieties. Manual models use hydraulic power and are typically the most economical option for in-home use. Electric models may use rechargeable battery power or plug directly into an outlet. While electrical options are pricier, they require minimal exertion from caregivers, making them extremely convenient.

Other important considerations for patient lifts include the lift height of these devices (some are able to lift a patient off the floor, while others can only go as low as a chair or a bed) and the weight limit (bariatric or heavy-duty models can lift heavier individuals and are typically electric). Additionally, it’s important to determine how many people are required to use the lift safely.

Sit-to-Stand Lifts

Also know as “stand assist lifts” and “stand up lifts,” these models help seniors who can sit up independently and bear some weight but are unable to safely transfer from sitting to standing (and vice versa) on their own. Seniors in this predicament can often lose confidence in their ability to get around. They may resign themselves to using a wheelchair or being bedbound, which only weakens their strength and balance further. Stand assist lifts allow a person with limited physical abilities to continue exercising their remaining mobility and maintain their quality of life.

Floor-Based Sling Lifts

A portable floor-based lift is a crane-like device with a wide, wheeled base used for transfers of all kinds and for transport between rooms. These lifts are often called “Hoyer” lifts, but Hoyer actually refers to a well-known brand name that has become synonymous with these devices. There are plenty of other manufacturers on the market. With these types of lifts, it’s important to be mindful of what sorts of tasks the lift is needed for and whether potential models will fit through the doorways and walkways in a patient’s home.

Overhead Sling Lifts

Electric ceiling lifts use mounted overhead track systems to move patients from room to room. The greatest benefit of these overhead systems is that they do not take up as much floor space or storage space as a floor-based model.

Sling Types

As is evident above, patient lifts come in several types to meet many different needs. In addition to these basic models, various slings can be purchased to further customize a setup. Slings are the fabric components that wrap around a senior’s body and attach to the lift. There are full-body slings that offer upper body and head support, slings with extra padding, and specialized slings for bathing and commode use. Lift compatibility, comfort and functionality are paramount when choosing a sling to assist with a loved one’s transfers.

Does Insurance Cover Patient Lifts?

Medicare Part B covers durable medical equipment that is determined to be medically necessary. A doctor must prescribe a patient lift for a senior to use in their home for it to be covered. Medicare beneficiaries may have the option of renting or purchasing lifts. Costs may vary, depending on the method of rental/purchase, the prescribing doctor and the supplier used to obtain the equipment. Seniors and their caregivers can learn more about coverage of patient lifts on Medicare.gov.

In-home care agencies can usually help determine which durable medical equipment is necessary for the safety and wellbeing of their clients and professional caregivers. Occupational and physical therapists can provide instruction and guidance on best usage practices for patient lifts. If you think a loved one with limited mobility may benefit from a patient lift, be sure to ask their physician for a mobility assessment.