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Health & Fitness

Caregivers should learn how to use gait belt

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:14 PM

I've had this idea brewing in the back of my mind for the last couple of years; or maybe I should call it a "wish."

I "wish" to get a few physical therapists to donate an hour of their time to attend an Alzheimer's caregiver's support group meeting. I would like to see them give a 20-minute demonstration on the correct way to use a gait belt (transfer belt) as well as an explanation of the importance of using this helpful device.

There are so many ways for caregivers and their loved ones to get hurt. Not knowing the correct way to transfer is high on the list.

If your loved one is unsteady on his feet, the use of this device can infuse confidence and a feeling of security.

A gait belt usually is made of canvas and is 2 to 3 inches wide. The length may vary depending on the size of the patient, and there is a choice of a metal or plastic buckle. I prefer a metal one as they seem to be more secure. There also are some that can be fastened by Velcro. They can be purchased at Walmart or most other large-chain pharmacies.

Before attempting to place the belt around a patient, first show it to him and let him touch it, then gently begin explaining that this device is meant to be used to prevent falling and that it will be removed after the transfer.

The belt is placed around the lower waist and is to be tightened to where two fingers of width can be slipped between the belt and the body. The belt always should be placed over clothing and never over bare skin. The tautness may have to be readjusted once the person is upright.

By using the beneficial mechanics of bending your knees, keeping your back straight and grabbing the sides of the belt, you can assist the person in standing with decent leverage. Repeat this procedure when it comes time to sit the person back down.

While escorting the person as he walks, remember that the purpose of the gait belt is to steady, not to drag.

There are some situations where the belt should be avoided. For instance, if the patient is complaining about abdominal pain or if feeding tubes or other lines are involved, extra caution must be used.

The patient's safety, and yours, should always come first. I'm sure you wouldn't place someone in your car without wrapping the seatbelt around them. Use this same train of thought when it comes to a gait belt. If the patient is weak in the legs or has poor balance, get in the habit of using this belt. It could save both of you a trip to the emergency room.

Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father for a decade after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He can be reached at us41books@bellsouth.net. His books, "Managing Alzheimer's and Dementia Behaviors," "While I Still Can" and "Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfulness," can be found at commonsensecargiving.com.