You should consult with a physical therapist or nurse about lifting and transferring techniques as you begin to care for a person with muscle weakness at home.
In addition to the specifics that can be supplied by a professional, a few general principles can help prevent injuries and keep you and the person with a neuromuscular disorder safe.
Using a transfer board
A smooth, sturdy board can help a great deal with a transfer when the target surface is at about the same level as the chair. There are commercially available boards, or you can make your own.
Make sure any board you make can handle the weight of the person who will use it, and make sure the surface is smooth and comfortable.
Transferring to a higher target surface
A common maneuver in the home or elsewhere is a wheelchair-to-higher surface lift and transfer. Here's a typical transfer for a person with severe leg weakness, who can't stand on her own, but who has fairly good upper body control.
Using a mechanical lift
If you can afford it, a mechanical lift can save a lot of wear and tear on your back. There are many types now on the market, ranging in price from about $1,200 to several thousands of dollars. Private insurance companies and Medicare will often cover all or part of the rental or purchase of one of these lifts. (You can also check with your local MDA office to see whether any lifts are available through a "loan closet.")
First, you have to get the person into the device (see "Using a sling" below).
It's not as hard as it looks, and the manufacturer will provide you with detailed instructions, often including a video. The retail dealership should also provide you with expert help, including showroom or in-home demonstrations, and, of course, you can consult with a physical therapist or nurse for more help.
For a completely immobilized person (someone in the advanced stages of ALS or Duchenne muscular dystrophy, for example), you'll have to use a rolling maneuver to help him into many types of available slings used in lifting devices. (Some slings come in two parts, and those are a little easier to use.)
Many people with weakness from neuromuscular disease can manage to wriggle onto a sling from a lying position, or at least can assist you as they move onto it.
For the person who needs help getting into a one-piece sling and has very limited muscle power, the technique shown in "Using a sling" is useful. You'll need either a bed with siderails or a second person stationed on the other side of the bed.
Using a sling
To remove the sling after use (not shown), set the person down on the bed with the sling under him. Detach the sling from the lift. Reverse the rolling technique described above.
The device pictured above is a CareGuard 9805 from Invacare of Elyria, Ohio. All photographs of this lifting device were provided courtesy of Western Medical of Tucson, Ariz.
Floor and ceiling model lifts
Lifts are generally either floor models, designed to be stationary or moved on wheels from room to room, or ceiling models, designed to run on a ceiling track from room to room. Prices vary, with ceiling models considerably higher than floor models.
However, keep in mind that floor models lack maneuverability in homes with tight spaces, lots of furniture or heavy carpeting. Ceiling models can be used almost anywhere, but they require expert (and expensive) installation, which is generally provided by the manufacturer. Seating styles vary, and some lifts can be used with multiple seating arrangements.
Parts of this story were prepared with the help of Carol Stumpf, a physical therapist at University Medical Center, Tucson, Ariz., who has many years of experience with neuromuscular disorders.