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Caregiving: How to Turn Someone in Bed

Topic Overview

Lying in one position for a long time can cause pressure injuries. You can help avoid pressure injuries by helping your loved one turn and change position in bed. This is also helpful when you need to do things like change sheets, help with a bedpan, give a back rub, or change a bandage. When helping someone move in bed, let the person do as much as he or she can.

Before you get started, ask your loved one if you can help him or her roll into another position. Let the person do as much as possible. Move or adjust anything that might be in the way, such as magazines, extra pillows, or medical equipment like drains or tubes.

If your loved one can help

You may need to help the person move toward the opposite side of the bed so that he or she will have room to roll.

  • Go to the side of the bed that your loved one will roll toward.
  • Ask your loved one to lie on his or her back with the knees bent. Then have the person place his or her arms across the body.
  • Ask your loved one to roll toward you while keeping the knees bent. If you have a rail on the bed, your loved one can reach toward the rail.
  • Help your loved one as needed. Gently place your hands on the shoulders and hips, and guide him or her toward you.

If your loved one cannot help

If your loved one cannot move or finds it very hard, you can use a drawsheet to help turn the person. A drawsheet makes it easier to roll the person into another position. You can buy a drawsheet that has a moisture barrier, or you can make a drawsheet with a bed sheet. You can then make the bed using the drawsheet.

It is best to turn your loved one every 2 hours. Turning someone in bed is hard. So have a family member or friend help you. It's easier for two people to do it, and it helps protect you from being injured.

Get your loved one into position

  • One person stands on each side of the bed. If your loved one is in a hospital bed, lower the height of the bed. This will make it easier to turn the person. It is easiest to move a person on a bed that isn't too wide. But the bed should be wide enough so that the person can roll over.
  • Untuck the drawsheet on both sides of the bed. Each person gathers up one side so that you both have a "handle" to grab. You may also need to make sure your loved one is high enough up in the bed. If not, lift him or her toward the head of the bed.
  • Agree on a count, and then lift and move your loved one to the side of the bed you're going to roll away from.
  • Tuck in the drawsheet on the side of the bed that your loved one will roll toward.

Move your loved one

When you and your helper are ready:

  • Help your loved one lie on his or her back with the knees bent. If your loved one can't bend the knees, cross one ankle over the other in the direction of the turn. Position the person's arms across his or her body.
  • Stand on opposite sides of the bed. One of you will pull and the other push. Be sure that you and your helper have your feet shoulder-width apart. This may help you avoid straining your back.
    • If you're pulling the person toward you, bend from your hips. (Don't bend your back.) Reach over the person, and grab the drawsheet at his or her hip and shoulder areas. Slowly pull the drawsheet toward you to roll the person over.
    • If you're rolling him or her away from you, slowly push at the hip and shoulder areas.

Moving someone in bed is easier when two people can help. If the person you're moving can help, even a little, you may be able to do it yourself. But do all you can to find someone to help you.

Position your loved one in bed

You can use pillows to help your loved one get comfortable and to help avoid pressure injuries.

If your loved one is on his or her side:

  • Place pillows in front of your loved one, at chest level, with the top arm draped over a pillow.
  • If needed, tuck one edge of a pillow under the buttock, lengthwise. Then fold the pillow under and tuck the other edge under the first edge. That creates a "roll" that stays in place better and helps keep your loved one from rolling back. A body pillow may also be helpful.
  • Place a pillow between your loved one's knees, with the legs slightly bent.
  • Put the top leg a little in front of the bottom leg. This takes pressure off the bottom leg.
  • Put a pillow under the bottom leg so that the bottom ankle is off the bed.
  • Make sure your loved one's shoulder is not turned back under the body.

If your loved one is on his or her back:

  • Put a pillow under your loved one's legs between the knees and ankles.
  • Do not put anything under the heels.
  • If you have a hospital bed, don't adjust the top end above 30 degrees. This helps prevent your loved one from sliding down.

When you are finished, smooth out the drawsheet in its original position and tuck it in.


Current as of:
March 17, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Thomas M. Bailey MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Gayle E. Stauffer, RN - Registered Nurse