Safe patient handling: transferring patients with dementia

Image: Safe patient handling: transferring patients with dementia

Today’s Safe Patient Handling topic involves tips and suggestions for transferring loved ones with dementia.

What is dementia?

The Canadian Mental Health Association defines dementia as a decline in mental ability which affects memory, thinking, problem solving, concentration and perception. The gradual decrease in cognitive ability means that the capacity to think and communicate gradually decline and the affected person may find it difficult to learn new information and express their needs. Dementia is progressive, meaning symptoms tend to worsen over time.

Transferring someone with dementia

It is important for those moving and handling people with dementia to consider the severity of the person’s symptoms in order to assist them safely. Cognitive impairment in dementia often limits the ability of the person to communicate effectively, which could impinge on an individual’s ability to clearly identify the person’s needs before attempting to move them.

When attempting to move or assist someone with dementia, you should:

  • Assess the situation to determine the ability of the person and the level of assistance required—remember, when it comes to dementia an individual’s cognitive ability can vary from day to day, and even minute to minute. They might require more or less assistance in the present than they have in the past.
  • Explain to the patient the reason why they are being moved, before you move them—remember to be patient and repeat the explanation as frequently as seems required.
  • Identify any equipment you will need to assist you with moving the patient, and ensure that the patient knows it is there.
  • Adapt the environment in order to make the patient feel safer—you may want to reduce noise level, improve lighting, and minimize distractions in the room (children, pets, television, etc.)
  • Continue to talk to them as you assist them with the move and repeat yourself when necessary to explain what you’re doing, as you’re doing it, especially if they show signs of confusion or distress.

If a dementia patient’s symptoms worsen over time, you may no longer feel capable of moving them on your own. If you find that you can no longer assist in transferring an individual with dementia without risking the safety of yourself or the patient, contact a professional with knowledge on safe patient handling to assist you with the move. Spectrum Health Care and Spectrum Patient Services offer a variety of services and options that can help you safely assist your loved one suffering from dementia.