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Your Top Guide to Ambulating a Patient or Loved One

nurse in green scrubs helping older woman walk the hallway

Written by:

Jeffrey Grossman


October 8, 2019

What is ambulation?
What does ambulate with assistance mean?
How do you safely assist in patient mobility?

After a long period of hospitalization or immobility, patients can find it difficult to move freely and safely without assistance. Transfering and ambulating a patient are helpful techniques to know, but a professional caregiver should be the one to provide support.

If you have an elderly loved one who has difficulty moving around independently, understanding the term “ambulation” and how to find a caregiver to provide ambulatory assistance may prove to be beneficial for you.

In this article, we’re talking all about transfers and ambulation. We’ll provide an ambulation definition and give insight into safe transfer techniques and ambulation methods.

Let’s start our conversation by looking at a transfer and ambulation meaning.


Transfers and Ambulation

As a family member or professional caregiver, you may find yourself acting in place of a physical crutch for those in your care. You may help seniors sit down, stand up, walk, keep their balance, and move from one position to another. Safely ambulating a patient requires great care and training.

The physical strain that assisted ambulation puts on caregivers can be weighty and potentially dangerous if not well-trained. Understanding transfers and ambulation for a variety of mobility needs is the job of a skilled caregiver. For some, ambulation is not possible and they require a transfer.

Let’s review these terms to give you a better grasp of both assistive methods.


What is a Transfer?

Transfers involve moving patients horizontally from one flat location to another (i.e., from a bed to a stretcher). In hospital settings, transfers are a more general term for relocating patients from one area or position to another. For example, moving a patient from their bed to a wheelchair and from their wheelchair to the toilet are common hospital transfers. 

Properly transferring an individual requires at least three health care providers. Transferring requires patience, strength, and comprehensive knowledge about the individual’s physical condition(s). We will not be giving directions in this blog on how to perform a transfer, but caregivers can read more about the steps of a patient transfer here.

Please note that transfers should be performed by professional caregivers or health care providers only. 

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What Does “Ambulate” Mean?

Ambulation is commonly mistaken with mobility, but their definitions are different.

Mobility is movement in general, such as moving one’s limbs or experiencing a range of motion in the joints.

Ambulation, on the other hand, specifically relates to walking without assistance. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines ambulate as, “the act, action, or instance of moving about or walking.”

So, mobility is general movement and ambulation is the specific act of moving.

Sometimes, an elderly adult who has mobility issues can have difficulty ambulating on their own—they need assistance. To ambulate with assistance means to help an individual get on their feet and start walking with the help of someone else or something.

For those who are bedridden for a time post-surgery or due to a chronic condition, assisted ambulation is especially necessary. After a period of immobility, whether that be during recovery from an operation or a long-term illness, the body can become stiff, weak, and the muscles may atrophy.

Now that you have an ambulation definition, let’s look more specifically at how to assist in patient mobility.


Ambulation with Assistance

The first, most crucial step to assisting with ambulation is assessing the older adult’s physical state. Caregivers must gauge the patient’s ability to move, current pain levels or injuries, and understand any assistive devices that may be needed in the process. Caregivers can help older adults ambulate with assistance because they’re trained in the proper techniques and safety precautions.

As a family caregiver or professional caregiver, familiarize yourself with the walking equipment of those in your care, including wheelchairs, walkers, canes, etc. Walking equipment is there to make the ambulation process easier, but knowing how to assist a patient with a walker can be a bit of a dance. 


Benefits of Ambulating a Patient

Keep in mind, not all ambulation requires an assistive device. Successful ambulation requires slow and steady movement with the help of a caring individual. Be aware that each new movement can cause dizziness or imbalance, so check in regularly while assisting an older adult to ambulate.

Helping someone walk or move after a procedure can:

  • Improve blood circulation
  • Increase appetite
  • Enable seniors to recover quicker

Studies have shown that older adults who practice early ambulation after a surgical procedure are discharged 2 days earlier than those who do not!


Get Your Loved One Professional Ambulation Assistance Today

Remember, transfers and ambulation are no small tasks for just anyone. Safely transferring an older adult takes a minimum of three people. When an older adult needs to ambulate with assistance, additional devices may be involved. Skilled caregivers and health care providers are the ones who need to be assisting with these senior support tasks.

At Commonwise Home Care, we train our professional caregivers for a variety of in-home care services, such as ambulation. We equip our caregivers to provide care for older adults with a range of debilitating medical conditions. Home care management services provide support for seniors and take the weight off of family members who do not have the expertise to care for their needs.

In-home caregivers assist seniors with day-to-day activities from meal preparation to medication management. One of the primary benefits of an in-home caregiver is their gift of companionship to older adults. Don’t care alone, let Commonwise Home Care serve you and your loved one with professional, personal support.

Contact us today for more information on the Commonwise Home Care difference.

In-home elder care solutions in Charlottesville, Richmond, Williamsburg, VA and Charleston, SC.

Contact us for a free assessment