Gait belts prevent falls.
That's why we use them in health care settings, and they can really be of benefit when your elderly or debilitated loved one requires extra care in their (or your) home.
A gait belt isn't something you would necessarily know about unless you've worked in health care or have a loved one who has been in the health care setting. The classic gait belt is long, and made from thickly woven cotton with a non-slip buckle that uses alligator teeth to keep the belt from slipping when in place. (Subtle variations of the gait belt certainly exist.)
Gait belts are an assistive device which can and "should" be used to help safely transfer a person in a weakened state from bed to chair, from sitting to standing, and even when entering and exiting a vehicle. The belt provides a "handle," of sorts, that allows whomever is escorting to weakened individual to easily grasp the belt and stabilize the patient if they lose balance.
The gait belt encircles the patient's waist snugly, but not too tight; at least two fingers should fit between the belt and body. Typically gait belts are very long to accommodate all sizes and shapes of individuals. The dangling end is best tucked into the belt to prevent trips or tangling. It is possible to find gait belts that have been manufactured so that there are actually several fabric handles incorporated on the belt to make the transfer even easier (one or more person can grab a handle as needed.)
Appropriate with a walker or cane?
By all means--use a gait belt whenever it's indicated. If your loved one has a "weak" side, be sure that you walk on that side of their body if they are using crutches or a walker. You'll be positioned in a way that allows you to more effectively help them.
Fastening the Buckle is like fastening the buckle of a military belt. In case you've never had to do that, here are some step-by-step photos to demonstrate.
The end with the metal tip starts threading behind the buckle
Insert metal tip through the open end of the buckle
Thread the metal tip forward between the metal teeth and opposite side of the buckle
Pull the metal tip completely through the buckle to tighten. Pull slack through the buckle area as necessary.
Ensure belt is not too tight by inserting two fingers between belt and patient's waist.
In this quick Youtube video: A rehab specialist demonstrates the value of a gait belt or leather belt. Although this expert discusses the value of the gait belt in a rehab/gym setting, this video is the best I've come across to concisely drive home how the belt can prevent injury.
Why I keep a gait belt on hand. My dear friend gave me a brand-new extra gait belt that her mother no longer wanted. I was rather delighted to have it, since we have a nearby friend with balance issues who has required "neighbors to the rescue" for some close calls on more than one occasion.
A Plus: Smart People Use a Gait Belt--comprehensive gait belt advice from Marcian Oliver, an experienced physical therapist. Check out Marcia's blog for a wealth of patient information regarding physical therapy and fitness issues.
Patient Education about gait-belt-use--this nice, concise explanation is provided by a medical supply company.
From ehow: Transfer using a gait belt
OSHA guidelines for nursing homes provides tips for moving patients safely: gait belts, slider boards, slippery sheets, and mechanical lifting devices are briefly addressed with several helpful illustrations.
Select this link for another OSHA page describing even more types of assistive equipment used to move patients and here for CDC's check list for home safety
Need more ideas on how to prevent falls?
- Install grab bars for the toilet, bathtub or shower
- Keep walkways (including stairs) clear of books, papers, clothing, cords, etc.
- Ensure stairway handrails are secure
- Use light and plenty of it (ensure stairways are entirely lit--including at the top and bottom)
- Get rid of small throw rugs
- Place a glow-in-the-dark sticker or a bit of fluorescent paint on light switches
- Have a bedside commode available--urgent trips to the bathroom result in too many falls!