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How to Transfer Patients With Dementia Safely & Effectively

Written by: Michael Fragala, PhD, MBA, RN, WCC, CSPHP, AMS

As a long-term care provider, your top priority is ensuring the safety of all those in your care. But this can be especially challenging when caring for patients suffering from dementia. Transferring such patients presents its own set of risks and challenges — ones that are often compounded by their confusion, lack of awareness, or difficulty with mobility.

To ensure safe patient transfers while also providing compassionate, dignified care, it’s important to understand best practices when transferring individuals with dementia. In this post, we’ll cover how to transfer patients with dementia safely and effectively.

How to Transfer Patients With Dementia Safely

When transferring a patient with dementia, several interventions can promote safety and comfort throughout the process.

Assess the Situation – Dementia is a complex medical condition that requires careful consideration when determining the best transfer plan. When transferring a person with dementia, it’s important to consider the current level of impairment. The current level of impairment will dictate how a patient can be safely and comfortably transferred.

Plan the Transfer – Ensuring a safe and successful patient transfer requires intentional planning. This includes assembling the right support team, implementing safeguards throughout the process, and having appropriate assistive equipment available at both origin and destination points.  Additionally, appropriate communication strategies should be implemented to ensure that everyone involved is aware of their role in facilitating the transfer. When mapping out how to transfer patients with dementia, evaluate any risks associated with the transfer and identify ways to mitigate them if possible.

Optimize Conditions – Before initiating the transfer, identify any potential risks associated with the transfer and identify ways to mitigate them if possible. This process may include pre-medicating the patient to optimize their condition before the transfer or adapting the environment to ensure patient safety.

Providing Support – Providing ongoing support to the patient throughout the transfer will be essential. Short-term memory deficits will often require instructions to be repeated often throughout the transfer and for the patient to be frequently reoriented. Patients dealing with dementia often experience anxiety and confusion during a transfer. Providing ongoing support during transfer can help patients with dementia comply with instructions while minimizing any distress experienced in the process.

The Importance of Using Proper Equipment When Transferring Patients With Dementia

Transfers present a real danger for patients with dementia, as disorientation and complicated movements drastically increase the risk of falls. Even routine activities such as moving around the facility and entering or exiting vehicles may pose extra hazards to these vulnerable individuals.

To ensure safe and successful transfers for patients with dementia, employing the proper equipment is essential. Wheelchairs are generally used as an indispensable tool in such processes, even for those able to walk independently. A chair alarm may be beneficial when supervision or attendance could lapse during a transfer—providing extra assurance of patient stability throughout the process.

How to Ensure Patient Comfort During a Transfer

Transferring a patient with dementia can be an emotionally overwhelming process, as the unpredictable nature of it may lead to distress. To ensure comfort throughout this journey, both physical and emotional needs must be considered.

Physical comfort can be achieved by providing accessible transportation, meeting toileting needs ahead of time, and ensuring nourishment levels are maintained throughout the process. For emotional comfort, you want to start by explaining what will occur before initiating the transfer so that the patient feels secure and safe.

This can be done through verbal communication, ensuring that the patient understands not only what will happen but why these steps are being taken for their own safety. Once the explanation is complete, it should be reinforced frequently throughout the transfer process by providing reassurance and reorienting the patient if necessary.

Safe, Effective Transfers for Patients With Dementia are Possible

Transferring a patient with dementia can be intricate and complex. To help ensure the transfer goes smoothly, providers must assess the situation, plan carefully beforehand, and optimize conditions to ensure both comfort and safety for the patient. Proper preparation for a safe transfer involves having a plan in place that takes into account every aspect of care and addresses each point of concern that may arise.

This includes making sure that safety equipment is available close by in case of an emergency, as well as providing emotional support throughout the entire process. Also, reducing stress levels before the transfer is essential; if possible, a familiar face should remain present during the transfer to provide additional support and lessen potential anxiety.

By having a plan in place, ensuring patient comfort, and ensuring safety equipment is available, providers can ensure safe transfers.

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