In our previous articles we have identified the various job titles that 'caregivers' are often referred to as. The department of labor has three different job titles for professionals doing essentially the same job. They are referred to as Home Health Aide, Nurse Aides and Personal Care aides. We have also talked about the extreme job growth in these fields and the factors driving that growth.
One of the negative aspects of being a caregiver is the potential for injury. The health effects of family caregivers is well documented with increased rate of depression and chronic health conditions such as heart disease. But the injuries related to professional caregiving do not always get the same attention.
According to the department of labor caregiver working in nursing home and care facilities have the second highest injury incident rate of any occupation. They have higher rates of injury than jobs in air transportation, wood product manufacturing and couriers and messengers. The injury rate for caregivers is 6.5 injuries per 100 full-time workers, resulting in injuries for about 165,000 people. Disturbingly, state and local government-run facilities had injury rates nearly double that of private facilities, with 11.7 injuries per 100 people.
How to protect yourself from injury
Most of the injuries associated with caregiving are related to lifting and transfers. The steps outlined below can help mitigate some of the injury risks associated with caregiving.
1. Plan the transfer
2. Gather and use proper equipment
3. Get Proper training
4. Use proper lifting technique
5. Know your limits and company policy
Plan the Transfer and Gather Equipment
There are no perfect transfer scenarios. In most instances caregivers want to use proper lifting technique but they either do not have the proper training or the layout of the house, furniture, equipment is not conducive to proper technique. We need to think about the transfer setting before we began the movement not during. Take a step back and look at your surroundings. Many times furniture can be moved or re-positioned to make transferring easier. We can also evaluate the need for home modification which can include widening door ways, installing grab bars or bathroom remodeling.
Now that we know that the risk of injury is significant we need to make a point to gather and use the proper equipment. This might include a gait belt, positioning of the wheel chair, positing of the foot rests or making use of a transfer board.
Proper Lifting Technique
Before you can use proper technique you have to know what proper technique is. It is absolutely critical that you have the proper training before attempting to transfer someone. Only 14% of family caregivers receive any formal training. The company Upward Care is trying to change that by offering hands on skills training to family caregivers. If your background is in family caregiving with no formal training as a CNA you should absolutely talk to your employer about receiving training in this area.
We have all probably heard the common phrase, "keep your back in neutral position". Anyone that has experience with transfers, knows that it is easier said then done. I have always found it is the external factors that sometimes prevent me from using the proper technique. The advice above can significantly reduce your tendency to reach and get your body out of position. But the main point is that we need to be deliberate about our body positioning throughout the lift or transfer. Do not become complacent just because you may have done this transfer many times.
Know your Limits
Many companies have started implementing policies regarding lifting and transfers. In some facilities all transfers must be made with two people or utilizing a mechanical lift. In home care we do not always have that luxury. It is important that caregivers do not over exert themselves while performing a transfer. If the patient is not able to assist with the transfer there is almost no circumstance when the transfer should be done by only one person. If the patient is to heavy to safely transfer even with an assist do not be afraid to speak up and notify your support team.
It is shocking to most people that the healthcare industry has resulted in so many injuries. We need to stay proactive and focused on that reality. Most caregivers have so much compassion and empathy their natural reaction is to do everything they can for their patient. Remember in this industry caring for yourself is caring for the patient.