For someone with a disability, being able to get around at home is essential. Patient lifts are medical devices that provide people who cannot stand or walk on their own with mobility assistance to function day to day. This includes activities such as transferring from a bed to a wheelchair, using the bathroom, or taking a shower.
Patient lifts are necessary because it's far too dangerous for a caregiver to attempt to manually lift someone on their own, which can result in serious injury to both the person with the disability and the care provider. A patient lift is a much safer, more effective means of assisting someone to maneuver from one position or location to another.
The FDA has compiled a list of best practices to follow when using a patient lift system in the home.
Patient Lifts in Hospitals and Residential Settings
Patient lifts have long been used in hospitals and other medical settings, but busy, time-constrained nursing staff may not know whether such assistive devices are available at their facility — or where to locate them. As a result, healthcare workers have sustained serious musculoskeletal injuries by attempting to handle patient transfers on their own.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that the overexertion injury rate for hospital workers was 68 per 10,000, 107 per 10,000 for nursing home workers, and 174 per 10,000 for ambulance workers. In every case, the single greatest risk factor for overexertion injuries in healthcare workers is manual lifting: moving and repositioning patients without a patient lift.
And these statistics are for healthcare professionals. Imagine how much greater the risk is for untrained family members or other care providers who try to lift patients without a medical lift.
NIOSH research found that safe resident lifting programs incorporating lifting equipment can protect workers from injury, reduce workers' compensation costs, and improve the quality of care residents receive.
Types of Patient Lifts
There are various types of patient lifts for home use. Below is a selection of patient lifting devices and accessories, along with what you ought to consider when choosing the best patient lift for your needs:
Full Body Lifts
Full body lifts. Passive lifts, also known as full body lifts, can either be manual (hydraulic) or battery powered (electric).
- Manual full body lifts, frequently referred to by one of their original brand names, 'Hoyer lift', are patient lifts that are not mechanically powered. A popular choice for home health care, manual patient lifts rely on a hydraulic pump arm that must be manually pumped to raise the patient and help the user transfer from one physical setting to another. In this case, the caregiver must be in good physical condition.
- Electric full body lifts. A passive electric patient lift, also commonly referred to as a "Hoyer lift", is more expensive than a manual lift, but the price is offset by ease of use for both patient and caregiver, since there is no manual labor involved. Electric lifts either run on a battery or plug into an electrical outlet to lift the patient.
- Ceiling lifts. A ceiling lift is a ceiling-mounted ergonomic alternative for lifting and moving patients from one place to another. With a ceiling lift, a caregiver can propel the user elsewhere in the room via a ceiling track. However, not all ceiling tracks and lifts have to be permanently mounted. Portable ceiling lifts can be moved from a track in one room to a track in another room. Both permanent mounted and portable ceiling lift tracks are increasingly being used in medical settings such as VA hospitals, civilian hospitals and nursing homes.
- Sit to Stand Manual. Sit-to-Stand lifts help patients move from a sitting to a standing position, and from standing to sitting, safely. Variously referred to as "Sara Lifts", "Lift Ups", "Stand Assist", or "Stand Up Lifts", sit to stand patient lifts are best for people who are able to bear weight, but do not have enough strength to change positions on their own. A good rule of thumb is that the patient should be able to hold 40% of their bodyweight, and have good core and head control.
- Sit to Stand Electric. As with full body patient lifts, an electric sit to stand lift can be more costly than a manual lift, but provides the added advantage of reduced strain on the caregiver and ease of use for the patient. As with the manual version, the patient need to be able to hold 40% of their body weight and have control over their head and core.
Transfer Aids. Transfer aids are best used for patients who still have a lot of strength but get tired during the day and need a little extra help.
- Specialty Lifts. There are several types of specialized patient lifts: bariatric, portable, independent lifter, car transfer and pool lifts.
- Bariatric lift. A bariatric patient lift is a heavy-duty mechanical lift with a high weight maximum. Constructed of durable materials, this mobile or overhead lift is ideal for confined spaces, providing a safe lift with added support.
- Portable lift. Portable patient lifts are designed to accompany patient and caregiver to other rooms or even other locations. Smaller, lighter, foldable and sometimes wheeled, portable lifts allow for assistive support as the patient walks.
- Independent lifter. Patients with moderate to good upper body strength will appreciate the greater degree of control an Independent Lifter affords them, enabling the patient to pilot their own transfers and eliminating the need for a sling.
- Car transfer lift. Getting in and out of the car is a significant challenge for people with diminished mobility. A fully electric car transfer lift is a compact, portable, adjustable patient lift that makes it easy for a caregiver to maneuver the patient into and out of the car with ease.
- Pool lifts. While we're omitting pool lifts from this list, you can get in the swim with our pool lifts article, and explore our comprehensive selection of pool lifts here.
Essential Lift Accessories
- Slings. Patient lift slings are used in conjunction with both manual and electric lifts to facilitate safe transfer in the home and prevent patient or caregiver injury. The wide range of sling designs includes:
- Universal slings (U-Sling), which are useful for toileting and general transfer and are often seen as the easiest to use for the caregiver.
- Full-body or Hammock Sling, for patients who prefer a hammock style over the U-sling
- Bathing Slings, which are helpful for bathing and dressing the patient
- Sit-to-Stand slings, to help transfer patients who need less support and who are using a sit-to-stand lift
- Bariatric slings for patients in a higher weight category
- Specialty slings, which can be used for gait training or for amputee patients, among other specialties.
Straps and Sheets
- Straps and Sheets. In order to manually transfer a patient safely, care providers use straps and sheets.
- One popular strap is the Lavin Lift. This accessory works with any standard patient lift, enabling a caregiver to suspend the lower portion of a patient's body in order to clean, change or treat the patient, eliminating the need to manually roll, turn, or lift the patient.
- A slide sheet performs a similar role, facilitating the process of moving or repositioning the patient across a bed, chair, or during a car transfer.
- Turner. A Turner is a specialized type of sheet: a flat fabric tube with a smooth inner surface that allows a caretaker to safely and conveniently transfer a patient with limited mobility between bed, chair, and wheelchair. The care provider positions the patient on top of the Turner, grasps the reinforced edges of the top layer, and pulls it towards them.
What to Know About Spreader Bars
Spreader bars, also called Hanger bars, Sling Bars or Suspension Arms are devices that hold patient slings. Some patient lifts come with these, but some need to be purchased separately. Typically made of heavy duty metal or pipe, they can have two, four, or six top and bottom fitting points at each end, which affect the way the sling is suspended.
With a four-point spreader bar, for example, the caregiver can position the patient so that they are sitting, reclining, or leaning forward. Loop attachments, or in some cases special clips, offer this maneuverability.
Are You Using the Right Sling for Your Patient Lift?
With so many options and possible equipment combinations, how can you be sure you're choosing the right sling for your lift? As a general guideline, begin by basing your choice on the patient's capabilities. Assess the following:
- Do the patient's weight and physical condition conform to the manufacturer's guidelines for the lift you will be using?
- Is the patient alert and able to follow instructions?
- Is the patient calm and willing to be transferred?
- Can the patient assist with the transfer?
- Are any children or pets secured away from the transfer area?
Common scenarios to help you make the appropriate selection:
- Full body lifts. For a manual or electric full body patient lift, a U-sling is a good choice when the patient needs less support. A U-sling with built-in ergonomic support for comfortable hoisting will work in most homecare environments. If the patient prefers to keep the legs together, a Hammock Sling is a great alternative.
- Sit-to-Stand lift. There is a wide array of slings compatible with both manual and electric Sit-to-Stand patient lifts, and many are quite versatile. Hoyer, for instance, makes over 200 slings that can handle the most demanding tasks effectively, with patient comfort and dignity.
- Bathroom lifts. Getting in and out of the bathtub and using the toilet safely are both crucial for someone with a disability. Bathing and toileting slings come in low and high support to fit the patient's specific circumstance. You might need something as simple as a padded toileting sling that can be used with a 4- or 6 point lift, or an adjustable, multi-configuration sling that can be customized for patient comfort to accommodate bathing, toileting, and other hygienic care.
- Bariatric slings. For patients in a higher weight category, extra support is necessary to ensure safety and comfort. Disposable positioning slings may be the best solution here. Designed for horizontal lifting and positioning, the sling remains on the bed and under the patient at all times, ready for the caregiver to utilize when needed. This provides comfort and convenience for the patient while minimizing strain and effort for the caregiver.
- Specialty slings. This selection will depend on the patient's specific needs. For example, a specialty sling may be specific to the type of lift, such as with the Car Transfer Lift Sling used with the Best Lift PL350CT. A very different, anatomical design would be more appropriate for an amputee or someone with impaired muscle tone. Another popular sling for gait training is used for people recovering from injury or trying to maintain strength with walking.
Have A Question?
At Wheelchair Liberty, we offer you the most comprehensive selection of patient lifts, slings, and other adaptive medical equipment on the market today, at the best prices — guaranteed. Our knowledgeable, helpful team is ready to answer your questions and support you on the road to better mobility.
Please sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest news and offers for your mobile lifestyle.