Using a Gait Belt

Adult putting on gait belt

If you have to lift someone on a regular basis, it is good to consider purchasing a gait belt, also called a transfer belt. Proper use of a gait belt can reduce the struggles involved with this task and lower the risk of back injury. (A gait belt is not a substitute for good body mechanics when transferring an individual. Do not overexert yourself, and ask for help when you need it.)

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What is a Gait Belt?

A gait belt is an assistive device which can be used to help safely transfer a person from a bed to a wheelchair, assist with sitting and standing, and help with walking around. It is secured around the waist to allow a caregiver to grasp the belt to assist in lifting or moving a person. When used properly, the belt protects the care recipient from falling and also protects the caregiver from injuring his or her back as they lift or move the care recipient.

A gait belt is usually 1-½ to 4 inches wide, and 54-60 inches long. The belt is made out of canvas, nylon, or leather with a buckle at one end. You can purchase a gait belt at medical supply stores, large pharmacies, online (e.g. Amazon), or even stores like Walmart.

  • A standard gait belt has a metal buckle that has loops and teeth. Thread the belt through the teeth of the buckle and then put the belt through the loop to lock it.
  • A quick-release gait belt has a plastic buckle that snaps into place to clip the two ends together.

View video on how to put on a gait belt.

Why use a gait belt?

A gait belt should be used if the care recipient is partially dependent and has some weight-bearing capacity. Here are some benefits of using a gait belt:

  • Provides assistance to the caregiver in moving an individual from one place to another. Gait belts can also be used to help raise a care recipient without straining the back.
  • Allows a caregiver to help stabilize a care recipient who loses his or her balance while walking. The belt acts as a handle that allows a caregiver to easily grasp onto the belt and stabilize the care recipient.
  • Helps protect the care recipient and caregiver from unnecessary injuries.

Be extra careful if the care recipient has a feeding tube, catheter, or medical issues involving their abdominal area. Consult with a physician about proper lifting under these conditions to find out if using a gait belt is safe.

How do I use a gait belt to lift or transfer someone from one place to another?

  1. Before you put the belt on, tell the care recipient that you will be using it and reassure him or her that it will be removed as soon as you are finished.
  2. Place the belt with the buckle in front of the person’s mid section. The buckle should be positioned slightly off center in the front to make it more comfortable.
  3. The belt should be placed over the care recipient’s clothes, rather than directly on the skin. If the care recipient is extremely thin or frail, place a towel in between the belt and his or her body.
  4. Tighten the belt until it is snug. It should not be uncomfortable. You should be able to slide just two fingers between the belt and the person’s body.
  5. Practice good body mechanics. Stand facing the care recipient and bend your knees while keeping your back straight. In most instances, placing your arms around the person’s waist and putting your hand under the belt, palm side facing outward, using a firm grasp. Straighten your knees while you hold the belt with one hand and place your other hand on the person’s back.

View video on how to properly lift someone with a gait belt

How do I use a gait belt to assist someone with walking?

  1. Stand behind and to the side of the person.
  2. Place your hand up under the belt, palm side facing outward, using a firm grasp.
  3. While escorting the care recipient as they walk, support them, and do not drag them around.

View video on how to walk with a gait belt

Caregivers can help guide the care recipient, provide extra support, and safely lower the patient to the ground if he or she starts to fall. If the care recipient starts to fall, use the belt to slowly guide him or her downward with their spine gliding down the front of your leg.

For more caregiving resources and presentations on transfers, please visit the “I am a caregiver” section of our website.

References:

1. Aurora Health Care. (2008). Use of a transfer belt. Retrieved from: http://www.aurorahealthcare.org/FYWB_pdfs/PE-2244-88.pdf

2. United States Department of Labor. (2009). Ergonomics for the prevention of musculoskeletal disorders. Occupations Safety and Health Administration. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/ergonomics/guidelines/nursinghome/final_nh_guidelines.html