What to Know About Patient Lifts

Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on June 30, 2022

It can be hard to take care of family members who are unable to move freely on their own. People with such mobility issues may need help for even the most basic tasks like moving around the house, taking a bath, or getting in and out of bed. As their caregiver, you would need to use a lot of strength and energy if you try to help them all by yourself. Over time, this could not only wear you out but even injure you, as well as the person you are trying to help.

For such cases, it's best to use a patient lift, which is a much easier and safer way to help people who have trouble moving on their own. 

What Is a Patient Lift?

A patient lift is a mechanical device used for moving people with mobility issues. They are designed to help caregivers safely lift and transfer patients from one place to another with the least effort. They are so easy to use that anyone can buy or rent a patient lift for home use. 

With this device, you can help your family member to:

  • Move from one bed to another
  • Get up from the floor
  • Use the toilet or take a bath
  • Move to and fro from a bed to a chair, wheelchair, stretcher, or bathtub
  • Shift on the bed

Patient lifts offer many benefits for caregivers, including easing their load and reducing their risk of injuries and lower back pain. For patients, they offer freedom and a means to move around with dignity. 

You shouldn't confuse a patient lift with a stair lift — a mechanical device that is attached to the staircase to help patients move up and down the stairs. Although they both help to move patients, their design and structure are entirely different. 

Depending on the brand, you can find many types of patient lifts with different designs. However, most of them have these basic parts:

  • A "base" with two "legs" parallel to the floor, which move on four wheels
  • A vertical bar called the "mast" rising from the base
  • An angled bar called the "boom" that forms the topmost portion of the lift
  • A "sling bar" hanging from the boom with attachment points for the sling  
  • A "sling" to hold the patient
  • "Latches" and "clips" to keep the sling secured

What Are the Different Types of Patient Lifts?

There're many types of patient lifts designed to fit the needs of their users. You can find lifts specifically made for use in pools and bathtubs, for carrying older people, for moving people in a standing position, and for many other kinds of tasks. Most of these varieties can be grouped into three categories, with each having a distinct structure and design. 

Floor-based, full-body sling lift. These are the most popular kinds of patient lifts. As their base is supported by wheels, they're also called rolling lifts. 

The power lifts run on rechargeable batteries and use a push-button mechanism for controlling the boom. While expensive, they make a good choice for caregivers with back problems.

The manual lifts use a hydraulic pump system, which is why they're also known as "hydraulic lifts". They come with a pump handle, which users move up and down with their hands to control the boom. People who need patient lifts for home use often prefer this option, as it's much more budget-friendly. 

The advantage of such full-body sling lifts is that they're quite easy to use, thanks to their adjustable legs and rolling wheels. However, due to their large size, it's tough to use them in small areas, including most hallways and bathrooms.

Sit-to-stand lift. As the name suggests, this lift helps patients to pull themselves up from a sitting to a standing position. This device is suitable only for people who can sit on a chair or a bed by themselves and bear some of their weight. The average weight these lifts can support is around 300 pounds. 

The cost of most of their hospital-grade versions is over $5,000. However, there're cheaper versions available for home use, which can cut your expenses without compromising on quality.

Overhead full-body sling lift. This lift is the ideal option for patients who don't like using a wheelchair every time they have to move from one room to another. In the market, you can find either their free-standing version or models that attach to the ceiling using a track system. That's what has given the latter the name "ceiling lifts".

Such ceiling lifts come in many varieties. While some are specifically made for bedrooms and bathrooms, others help patients to move throughout the house.  

How to Use a Patient Lift

There're various types of patient lifts, each built for a specific purpose. The way to use each one of them is slightly different. However, by following these basic steps, you may be able to use most kinds of lift systems for moving patients:

  1. Start with rolling the patient on their side so that you can put the sling under them. Make sure the sling is placed directly below their spine before you roll them on their back. 
  2. Put the patient's arm through the sling straps. 
  3. Follow the manufacturer's guidelines to attach the sling to the sling bar.
  4. Make sure the clips on each side of the sling bar are the same to keep the sling balanced.
  5. Once the sling is properly attached to the sling bar, raise the patient gently until they're two inches above the surface. 
  6. At this point, check whether the patient is secure and comfortable on the sling. Depending on the type of lift, you may also need to check if their back and/or head are properly supported.
  7. Keep on lifting the patient until they reach the correct height for completing the transfer. 
  8. Turn the patient so that they face you (the caregiver) before moving the patient lift towards the desired spot.

If you plan to get a patient lift for someone at home, be sure that you use it the right way. Their wrong use can cause your family member to fall from the lift. This, in turn, can lead to back injuries, fractures, head traumas, and even death. 

Show Sources


California Department of Social Services: “How to Use a Hoyer Lift.”

Journal of Occupational Health: “Priority approaches of occupational safety and health activities for preventing low back pain among caregivers.”

Muscular Dystrophy Association: “Portable Lifts: A Real Pick-Me-Up for Caregivers.”

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “Patient Lifts,” “Patient Lifts SAFETY GUIDE.”

© 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info