Gait belts are modern day necessities
in the rehab world.
Recently I had a few questions via an IG DM pertaining to the use of gait belts. I recommend them often to the families that I work with especially if their loved ones still requires minimal to moderate assistance to safely transfer from one surface to another. Along with recommending the purchase of a gait belt I make sure to utilize teachback approaches to maximize caregiver understanding to generalize to settings outside of the hospital. This is typically where I also provide education and training on use of good body mechanics because similar to the airplane messages “put your own oxygen mask before helping others” if the patient’s caregiver is not in adequate physical health, it will be unlikely that the caregiver will be able to handle the physical repetitive demands that assisting a person in their daily mobility tasks entails.
1) When should gait belts be implemented in therapy?
-Gait belts (safety belts) are an appropriate and convenient low cost equipment that can be utilized when providing manual patient handling. The belt helps in providing a more secure way to assist patients when performing functional mobility tasks such as transferring from a bed to a chair or ambulating from one room to another destination. Rather than “pulling” on the person, the gait belt is more accessible to the “handler” (i.e. the therapist, nurse, or caregiver) when assisting the patient.
-Extra care for gait belt placement will need to be taken for patients with the following conditions: severe cardiac conditions, abdominal aneurysms, recent abdominal, chest, or back surgery, colostomy/ileostomy surgery, severe respiratory problems, PEG tube, the list can go on…
-For larger patients it may be necessary to improvise and clasp two belts together in the event you do not have a longer belt available.
2) Have you ever experienced an instance where you did not use a gait belt when you ended up needing one?
At my current place of employment (acute inpatient rehab unit within a hospital context) as well as in any previous clinical fieldwork placements it is mandatory across the board for every patient to wear a gait belt and nonskid socks at any time when they are out of bed (except when in the shower). There has been one instance when I was assisting a patient in the shower in which I assisted the patient with the gait belt on when transferring to the shower bench before removing it after seated safely (which is the proper sequence per my hospital rules and personal clinical reasoning). This patient -midway through the shower- demonstrated signs and symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia (profuse sweating, lightheadedness, anxiety…)in which I followed the procedures in which I cared for the patient (immediately assisted patient into a more upright position and check for a kink in the catheter), then pressed the emergency cord, then another staff member placed the belt around the patient, in which case we performed a 2 person dependent transfer to a highback w/c and continued providing the necessary care.
3) How would you stop a fall if the patient was wearing a gait belt versus if they were not?
If a patient loses balance past the point in which the assisting handler can facilitate the necessary righting reactions to resume balance, the therapist should not try to catch them (which could include pulling on the person which could cause more harm), -they should help the person slowly lower to the ground while maintaining grasp on the belt and protecting the placement of the patient’s head. Without the belt it is likely that greater damage could occur.
4) When can gait belts be implemented in situations other than transfers?
Much like when you see someone using an assistive mobility device such as cane or a walker, it is likely that that person may have balance or functional mobility deficits. Human nature and empathy should provide you the extra intuition to be a little more mindful in making sure not to bump into that person who likely has reduced balance when you are walking near them at church or in a crowded grocery store. It is my personal belief that if someone is wearing a gait belt – that is an instant visual cue for me to be more careful around him/her.
5) Where can you purchase a gait belt?
It is important for me to mention that I have yet to note an insurance company pay for a gait belt for any of my patients (I have not yet lost hope); with that being said it is imperative that we are mindful of the costs that add up when preparing for transitions back home. For this reason in addition to diligently doing my best to provide patient choice I recommend for my patient’s families to “shop around”. At our hospital we use the plastic belts that are easily cleaned between patients but for my patients I recommend that they purchase cloth belts such as from Walmart, Amazon, local Durable Medical Equipment Stores, and even places such as Goodwill may have them. I always state “If you are paying more than about $10 then you should keep looking”. Here is a link to multiple belts that are about $10 at Walmart! For my therapy friends, however, MoreCowbelt is super cool (my belt is from them) and if you like personalized belts then you should check them out here!
Happy moving everybody!!! Physical therapists are not the only ones who like to see you up and moving (shoutout to OTs everywhere)… just remember -> Safety first!!
***This post was created in collaboration with More Cowbelt. I was complimentary gifted this belt. If you have further questions in regard to this apparel line please reach out and comment below.