Hoists provide a way to transfer somebody with limited mobility without putting unnecessary strain on the carer or the person being moved. This is a broad overview of the different types of hoist available.
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It is always advisable to seek independent advice before buying any hoists or manual handling equipment to ensure you make an informed and sensible choice. It is strongly advised that you contact your local social services and seek advice from a professional such as an Occupational Therapist, as they should be able to undertake a full assessment, and provide and maintain the appropriate equipment, as well as providing the carer with all the training required.
One common complaint raised against hoists is that they take too long to use. Carers often say they instead prefer just to lift the person themselves. This can often be because the person using the hoist is unfamiliar with the equipment or because it is unsuitable for the task. This can normally be easily addressed by the provision of the right equipment and thorough training and support in its use. Ultimately the aim of using any manual handling equipment should be to reduce the risk of an injury to the lowest level possible. We have a helpful series of questions to ask before choosing handling equipment here
Ceiling track hoists
Traditional ceiling hoists run along permanently fixed tracks, so they offer less flexibility in use than a mobile system. On the other hand, they do not occupy floor space as a mobile hoist does, and they may be operated by the user independently – which is not possible with any floor standing system.
They are generally less arduous for a carer to operate than a mobile hoist, and are the more suitable for longer distance transfers.
In selecting a system, thought also needs to be given to structural considerations: ceiling joists may need to be reinforced, and doorways altered, to accommodate the track.
Ceiling track systems may either have a permanently fixed hoist or a portable one, that can be detached and carried by the operator to be used on another track elsewhere in the building: particularly useful in nursing home environments. The hoist unit may be quite heavy to move around though – portability is a relative concept!
Many ceiling track systems are powered by mains electricity for the transfer, with either a manual or powered raising and lowering mechanism.There will either be a battery back-up for emergencies, or a manual wind-down facility, to enable the client to be lowered to a flat surface. Alternatively, the system may be powered by rechargeable batteries – which is useful in that it is independent of the power supply, and also removes the need for a cable running along the track to provide power to the hoist from the mains. The disadvantage is that the batteries need to be kept well charged up, by returning them to their charging point at the end of the track – and it is quite easy to forget to do this.
Portable overhead hoists (Gantry hoists)
A more portable alternative to a ceiling track hoist is also available, in the form of a portable hoist and gantry arrangement, such as the one shown on the left.
This is particularly suitable for situations where a hoist is required in a particular place for a short amount of time: when a disabled person is travelling, for example, or perhaps for use by health professionals working in the community.
The whole system folds into its own wheeled carrying case, which can be stowed in the boot of a car.
Being self-contained units, mobile hoists don’t require any track installation, so offer more flexibility of use. They do, however, demand more of the carer, and are really not designed for moving people long distances: a wheelchair or showerchair is better for this, or a ceiling track hoist (above).
In selecting a mobile hoist, thought needs to be given to the environment where it will be used: whether there is enough room to manoeuvre it into the right position; if the legs of the hoist will fit under or around any furniture, such as bed, bath or chair; whether the floor surface is smooth enough to allow it to operate easily: thick carpet or threshold strips are difficult to move over.
It is also important to check that they have sufficient operating range to lift the person clear of any surface, and perhaps also to pick them up from floor level in an emergency.
They also need to be stored when not in use, preferably in an area where they are out of the way, and with a charging point for their battery.
There are smaller mobile hoists with narrower bases which are easier to move in more confined areas. These have a maximum load of perhaps 20 stone (100 kg) or a bit more, and are useful in the domestic environment. Larger hoists which are capable of lifting up to 40 stone (250 kg) give more flexible hoisting in hospital and nursing home situations with a range of patients and more space to work with.