Countless family caregivers struggle to reposition and transfer seniors with very limited mobility. Many provide assistance with this vital activity of daily living (ADL) without any help from additional people or assistive equipment, thereby risking their own health and that of their loved ones. Falls, back injuries and chronic pain commonly result from manually turning and lifting seniors. Patient lift assist devices 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 Are Lifting Devices for the Elderly Appropriate?
While there are many different types of patient transfer equipment on the market, a mechanical lift is usually recommended for those 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 lift—especially if they wish to age in place.
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 that prevents them from comprehending directions and/or physically following them, then transfers may be best completed using a patient lift. This is often the case for 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. Countless people caring for their loved ones at home singlehandedly attempt transfers in scenarios where additional hands-on help and durable medical equipment are needed. Overexertion injuries are fairly common among family caregivers and can cause chronic health problems and pain. For patients, improper repositioning and transfer techniques can result in serious fall-related injuries, such as head trauma and fractures, and even death.
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 should 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, such as an assisted living facility, memory care unit or nursing home, depending on the extent of their needs.
Types of Elderly Lift Assist Devices
There are many kinds of patient lifts and accessories that are designed to address different mobility limitations 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 patient lifts for 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 key 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. Some devices are approved for one person to use, while others require at least two people to handle the patient and operate the lift.
Four of the most common types of patient lifts are explained in more detail below.
Also known 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 often lose confidence in their ability to get around. They may resign themselves to using a wheelchair or being bedbound, which only negatively impacts their strength and balance further. Sit-to-stand 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 floor-based full-body sling lifts. 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 can either use permanently mounted overhead track systems or freestanding overhead tracks to transfer patients. 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.
Types of Patient Lift Slings
As is evident above, there are many styles of patient lifts designed to meet different needs. In addition, 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. When choosing a sling to assist with a loved one’s transfers, check that the size and weight ratings, recommended care instructions, comfort, and functionality are compatible with your lift device and needs.
Does Medicare Cover Patient Lifts for Home Use?
Medicare Part B covers durable medical equipment (DME) 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 and whether the prescribing doctor and the supplier used to obtain the equipment are enrolled in Medicare. 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 well-being of their clients and professional caregivers. Occupational therapists (OTs) and physical therapists (PTs) 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.
Sources: Safe Patient Handling and Mobility (SPHM) (https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/safepatient/); Patient Lifts Safety Guide (https://www.fda.gov/files/medical%20devices/published/Patient-Lifts-Safety-Guide.pdf)