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Proper Use of an Ambulation Gait Belt
Caregivers need to learn the proper use a gait belt for a mobility-challenged patient. This is a task that is basic to caregiving. A gait belt is a long belt made from thickly woven cotton, and it has a non-slip metal buckle. The belt’s buckle has metal “alligator” teeth to keep the belt from slipping when in place. It is possible to find gait belts that have fabric handles, so that more than one person can assist the patient. A gait belt is for assisting a weak, unsteady person to move from sitting to standing or as an extra safeguard. Patients who walk with a walker or cane may need a gait belt. The belt provides a place for the caregiver to help stabilize a patient if they lose balance. A gait belt can steady the patient and help the caregiver prevent a fall.
Not for Lifting or Carrying
Physical therapists emphasize that a gait belt is NOT to be used in lifting or carrying a patient by the waist. The gait belt is not meant to be placed around the upper chest, breasts, or abdomen. A gait belt fits around the patient’s waist while the patient is walking or moving with caregiver assistance. Don’t place a gait belt over incisions, stitches, tubes, or lines, and never use one on a pregnant patient. The proper use of a gait belt will prevent the caregiver from handling the person by the arm, wrist or underarms and injuring a weak patient.
Fit and Fasten
The gait belt fits around the patient’s natural waist snugly. Be certain that at least two fingers fit between the belt and body, so it won’t squeeze the patient. Typically, gait belts are very long to fit all sizes and shapes of individuals. It is best to tuck in the dangling end of the belt to prevent trips or tangling. Fasten the metal buckle like you would a military belt, making sure that teeth catch and the buckle closes. Always inform the patient that you are using a gait belt and what you are going to do. So, read and follow instructions that come with the gait belt before you use one.
Walking with the Patient
To help a seated patient rise and walk, use these steps: Remind the seated patient to “put your nose over your toes” when rising up to their feet. Snug their gait belt if needed. Be careful that it is not too tight, or too loose. Do not position a gait belt in the area of the patient’s breasts, abdomen, or upper chest.
The caregiver should walk beside the patient and put one hand flat on the patient’s back over the gait belt. One hand is there to monitor movements. You may use an underhand or overhand hold with one or both hands on the belt, but do not hold onto the patient’s clothing or skin. Be careful that putting your fingers or whole hand under the belt does not tighten the belt causing it to bind or be uncomfortable to the patient. Be careful not to pull or swing the patient with the belt. A caregiver often uses a gait belt on a patient who depends on a cane or a walker and who may easily lose balance. Walk at the pace of the patient on the patient’s weak side to the rear. Take your time.
Be careful! Grasping the whole belt with your hand might cause you to pull on the gait belt unintentionally. The gait belt is supposed to be for steadying a weak patient, not to push, pull, or drag them. Walk at the pace of the patient on the patient’s weak side, walking behind him. Loosen and remove the gait belt when the patient is seated again comfortably.
Safe, Not Sorry
Yes, putting the belt on and off takes some time and effort, but it could save a patient, and, sometimes a caregiver, from falling while the patient is walking with assistance. Patients who are very heavy, very weak while standing, or who need lots of assistance for mobility will probably need an evaluation to determine the best methods for transfers and walking. A gait belt is not for every patient. Ask a nurse or a physical therapist for a demonstration and advice in the proper use of a gait belt for your patient.
Principles of Caregiving: Aging and Physical Disabilities:
“Chapter 5 – Transfers and Positioning, Section 2. “Gait Belt.” http://azdirectcare.org/REVISED_Training_Manuals.html#APDmodule2010