Taking care of an immobile adult requires some special considerations that other caretaking situations do not. From lifting them the correct way to helping them get dressed in adaptive clothing, you will need to rethink many different aspects of daily life when caring for an immobile adult. Here are six tips to make it easier to care for an immobile adult:
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Understand their mobility limitations.
Different adults have different mobility limitations. Caring for someone who cannot move their body from the neck down is very different from caring for someone who is wheelchair bound but can use their arms. Mobility limitations can also change over time, with most older adults becoming less mobile as they age. Understanding the mobility limitations and abilities of your loved ones is key to taking good care of them. Their doctor can advise you on their current capabilities, how best to take care of them right now and what the prognosis for recovery is (if there is an expectation of recovery).
Learn how to lift people the right away.
Pretty much all adults with mobility limitations need some kind of assistance, whether that is getting from the bed into a wheelchair or even just turning over in bed. They need to be moved or turned every two hours to decrease the chances of forming pressure sores, also called pressure injuries.
When lifting or moving another person, you should follow proper lifting techniques and use good body mechanics — the last thing you want to do is injure yourself while trying to move them! For each move or lift, educate yourself on the proper positioning for both of your bodies before attempting it. There are also mobility aids that you can get that make it safer and easier to move another person. For example, an elderly lift belt will make it easier for you to lift a sitting person off the edge of a bed and transfer them to a wheelchair. You can also get electric lift assist devices, though these take up a lot of room and are very expensive.
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Get them adaptive clothing.
Choosing the right kind of clothing for the handicapped is very important. Clothing that is too heavy or constricting won’t allow the skin to breathe and can impede circulation and contribute to the formation of pressure sores. Look for clothing that is made of soft, breathable fabric and that is ideally seamless as well. If the clothing does have seams, make sure they are low profile and located in a place where they will not be lying or sitting directly on top of the stitching.
If you find the dressing process difficult, handicapped clothing can make it easier on both of you. Adaptive clothing is specifically designed with the needs of elderly adults — including immobile adults — in mind. For instance, adaptive clothing for wheelchair users will have two overlapping panels in the back to preserve their dignity and comfort while making it easy to get them dressed in a sitting position.
Take care of their skin.
Immobile adults are prone to skin issues such as pressure sores and rashes because they stay in one position for so long. Rashes can develop in the folds of skin on the torso; the creases of the armpits, elbows and groin; around the knees, ankles and toes; and around the groin and anal areas. You should inspect their entire body every couple of days to look out for early warning signs of rashes and pressure sores.
Bathe them using lukewarm water and gentle water; harsh soaps and extremely cold or hot water will irritate the skin. Use a soft wash cloth and rub gently, not vigorously, and then pat their skin dry with a soft towel. Apply moisturizer to keep the skin from drying out, but avoid skin folds — those areas are already moist from sweat and friction, so applying lotion in them can lead to rashes and infections.
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Choose and wash their sheets carefully.
On the subject of skin irritation, you should also choose sheets and towels that are made from cotton and other natural, breathable materials. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester and nylon can trap sweat and lead to irritation. You should also wash their clothing, sheets, towels and anything else that touches their skin with gentle, unscented detergent. Try to avoid using harsh soaps with dyes, fabric softeners and other chemicals that can leave a residue behind on clothes. These can transfer to the skin and cause skin allergies or rashes even in perfectly healthy, mobile young people.
Help them maintain a healthy weight.
Helping immobile adults maintain a healthy weight is important for several reasons. The heavier they are, the more difficult it will be to safely and easily move them. Skin folds resulting from excess weight can also increase the likelihood of rashes. To help them stay at a healthy weight, encourage them to drink enough water. This will boost skin and joint health and also help them to stay full for longer (dehydration can sometimes feel like hunger pains).
Feed them a healthy diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains if possible. Their doctor can advise you on what foods are best for them and how much they should be eating each day.
What are your other tips and advice for caring for immobile adults? What do you wish you had known when you first started caretaking for an immobile adult? Or is there anything that you wish you had done differently? Let us know in the comments below!