Safe Transfers, Easy Does It

safe-transfers“Transfer” is a word many caregivers may not even think applies to them. If you help a loved one from a wheelchair to their bed or recliner, that is considered a transfer. If you help someone to the toilet, or in and out of the shower, it’s also a transfer. Safety always matters when performing a transfer.  Remember you don’t have to be doing a full-body lift to pull a muscle, strain a tendon, or injure a knee. Back strain and back pain are top complaints from caregivers that do a lot of transferring.

A loved one’s physical therapist can be a huge help in learning appropriate lifting techniques, and even ways to work with an individual. Each person may have unique physical limitations and abilities. A physical therapist will correct mistakes and incorporate these considerations into their transfer suggestions.

The first rule of assisting a person with movement is to let them do what they can themselves. It’s okay for a loved one to take a few tries to get up (and sit back down as they need to). While it lessens the amount of work a caregiver must do, it also helps keep the individual as strong as they can be, physically and mentally. Lost independence is a large contributing factor to depression in seniors.

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When planning to move someone, caregivers must first know what they (and their loved one) can and cannot do.  A transfer belt is a good tool to help balance and support the person, as are sturdy shoes or slippers with treads. If using a wheelchair for part of the transfer, keep it close to the surface the person is moving to or from.  It should always be on the person’s strong side. A caregiver should make sure the brakes are on at all times, and the armrests and footrests are out of the way.  

Once the transfer is set up, there are some tips to make it a successful move:

1)    A caregiver should tell their loved one what they plan on doing.
2)    Before beginning to move, count with the person: “1-2-3.”
3)    Gain control by being close to the person being lifted.
4)    When doing the actual lift, a caregiver must keep their back in a neutral position. This means arched normally, not stiff. Knees should be balanced and weight on both feet.
5)    A caregiver must make sure to use their arms to support the person, and let their legs do the actual lifting.
6)    Pivoting is better than twisting the body.
7)    Keep a phone or other communication device nearby in case of emergency.

After a transfer, don’t rush off; ensure your loved one is securely in place. Move any desired objects close to them, whether a remote, call button, glass of water, etc. Transfers are also a good time for caregivers to assess their loved one’s physical state. It’s a time to determine if they have lost or gained weight, or become stronger or weaker. Safe transfers can be accomplished over and over, but it is important to put safety first for both of you.

Today’s Caregiver magazine (, launched in 1995, is the first national magazine for all family and professional caregivers. Each issue includes articles on vital caregiving issues and caregiving resources. Cover interviews include Debbie Reynolds, Dixie Carter, Valerie Harper, Della Reese and Clay Aiken, among many others. ©, Inc.