What's the best way to help my 250-pound father walk?

1 answer | Last updated: Jun 21, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father weighs 250 pounds and outweighs me nearly two to one. Is there a good technique I can use to help him walk?

Expert Answers

Helen Lhim is director of Rehabilitative Services for the Institute on Aging, Ruth Ann Rosenberg Adult Day Health Center, San Francisco.

It depends on how much physical assistance your father needs. I'd suggest you start by having him see his doctor to find out if an underlying condition is affecting how he walks. Depending on his ability, you'll need to consider a variety of things to gauge how much help he needs.

To assist with his stability, he needs the right equipment, such as a walker or cane. Make sure, too, that he receives proper instruction in their correct use, so he can help you as much as possible and you won't have to shoulder the majority of his weight. His weight, even at 250 pounds, is less an issue than his ability to move around. I know a woman who weighs over 400 pounds, and she's able to walk with supervision -- which means she requires no hands-on assistance, only someone nearby for safety reasons. If your father needs physical assistance, that's a different matter.

The level of physical assistance required is graded according to the amount of weight another person needs to support in order to allow the individual to do a functional task, such as moving from bed to chair or from sitting to standing, or walking. If your father needs moderate assistance, for example, that's 25 to 50 percent of his weight that another person needs to support. Unless you're a world-class weight lifter, that could be difficult. If he needs assistance that includes your bearing some of his weight, you’d benefit from consulting with a physical therapist. A therapist can teach you how to walk with your father and how to help him transfer his weight, if that’s something you can do without injuring yourself.

A good therapist might also suggest a gait belt, a heavy-duty cotton belt that will help you get a better hold on your father while helping him transfer from sitting down to standing up, for example. A gait belt is secured around the waist, providing a handle right at the center of your father's body mass. You can find one at any medical supply company.

When walking with your father using a gait belt, walk next to and slightly behind him on his weaker side. Put one hand on the gait belt and the other hand on the shoulder that's closest to you. If your father has difficulty walking, make sure to consult with a physical therapist about techniques to help you assist him. For example, you may need to give verbal cues regarding direction (for example, "turn left," "turn right"), foot placement ("right foot first, cane, left foot"), and walking speed ("slow down").