How to move and transfer seniors safely

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How to transfer seniors
Seniors with declining motor skills require mobility assistance. Lifting, transferring and moving seniors are important caregiving tasks. Caregivers need to be trained and knowledgeable in proper body mechanics and moving techniques. Lack of these skills can lead to injuries to both caregivers and their clients. In this article, we discuss some important techniques for transferring a senior.

As they age, seniors can get various ailments that can cause a decline in their motor function and leave them with various mobility issues. How to transfer seniors safely is the main question because of mobility issues. This can either affect the whole body or just a few limbs. The severity and location of these issues vary by senior and the extent of any illnesses which they may have.


Examples of conditions that can lead to decreased mobility include natural ageing, diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s,  chronic illnesses like arthritis and auto-immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Seniors suffering from such medical problems can face a rapid decline in mobility and require help with the activities of daily living. Many of these diseases can progress rapidly and lead to permanent immobility.


One of the most common tasks a caregiver has to perform is to help clients with mobility issues. This can include support activities such as walking or transferring them from the bed to a wheelchair. How to transfer seniors, especially if they have mobility issues,  is not easy and requires the use of proper techniques. While supporting and transferring a senior the caregivers need to make sure that they use proper body mechanics to avoid injuries to themselves and their clients.  


Here are a few tips and techniques that can help you and your client stay safe during the transfer process.


 1. Proper Body Mechanics for Moving Seniors


When there is a need to transfer a senior, encourage them to do as much of their lifting as possible. This will make it less difficult for you to transfer them.  Such encouragement also reduces their feelings of helplessness and creates a sense of independence.  Furthermore, if the client is doing most of the work during a transfer, it will reduce your chances of getting hurt. Before and during a transfer, you must constantly communicate to the seniors what you are going to do and what is expected of them.


While transferring as a senior,  you need to hold your head up, pull your shoulders back, straighten your back, open up your chest and keep your feet apart at hip distance. Use both feet when shifting your position and bend at the knees for lifting the senior. Make sure that you ALWAYS use your leg muscles and not your back while lifting. Do not turn at the waist or pull with your arms.


It is important to follow these techniques, otherwise, the chance of injury to yourself and the senior can be high.


2. Proper Technique for Reclining Seniors


Sometimes, the elderly are bed-bound and may want to be reclined on their bed. While reclining seniors, you need to be aware of what to do. You must keep communicating with them throughout the process so they know what and how they will be assisted in the transfer.


Once the process has been explained to the senior, remove any pillows from under them. Ask them to bend their legs and place their feet on the bed. It is better to do a countdown and help them move to the top of the bed. Let them do all the work if possible so that you do not hurt yourself. Once reclined, make sure that they have been positioned properly and can roll over if needed. Otherwise, have the elderly put their feet and bend the legs again and scoot them over.


3. Transferring a Senior from a Bed to a Wheelchair


Be careful when lifting seniors from their beds. Before starting, wash your hands and position yourself properly. Communicate all your moves so that your client knows what to expect to make the transfer easier.


First, position the wheelchair next to the bed on the dominant side of your client. This will help them raise themselves from the bed on their own with little assistance from you. Then, make sure the wheels are locked and foot pedals and armrests have been folded out of the way. Also, to avoid any injuries, make sure that there are no barriers in the way, such as footrests or wastebaskets.


You can make use of a gait belt which will assist when helping your client stand up from the bed. Do not pull on their arms as that can hurt their tendons and joints. Let the seniors do the work by asking them to push up from the bed on a count of three, but make sure you are positioned to support them if they lose balance. Protect your back and keep your knees bent during the transfer to avoid any injuries to yourself.


4. Use of Mechanical Lifts


For some clients, mechanical lifts can be installed and used for the transfer process to and from the wheelchair. Make sure to get as many demonstrations as possible from the vendor or family members so that you are familiar with the device and can avoid any safety hazards.


Before the senior is secured to a lift, make sure you put the brakes on the wheelchair and fold the floor pedals and the arm rests. Turn the wheelchair so that the transfer is easy and the lift can move. Remove any hindering items so that the elder doesn’t bump into them during the transfer.


As always, explain the process in detail to your client so that they are not afraid.  Otherwise, they may even refuse to use the lift.


5. Walking and Sitting Assistance


Seniors may need assistance with walking and sitting. For walking make sure that your client’s footwear gives proper support and they are not wearing slippers or sandals. Position yourself properly. You should stay on the weaker side of your client during walking and sitting. Train your client to always turn around fully before they attempt to sit so that they know how much to back up. You should also train and encourage them to use their arms and slowly lower themselves in a seat.




Helping a senior stay mobile is an important part of being a caregiver. Caregivers may need to transfer their clients between beds and wheelchairs, and assist them with changes in position between standing, sitting, reclining and lying down. By following the above tips on how to transfer seniors, caregivers can ensure that they and their clients remain safe during moving and transferring. You should also make sure that you regularly refresh your transfer skills through online courses and instructions so you can help your clients safely and efficiently.

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