More than one-third (39.8 percent) of American adults are obese, according to a 2017 data brief published by the National Center for Health Statistics. A person is considered clinically obese if their body mass index (BMI) level is 30 or more. Overweight and obesity have become pressing global health concerns.

With a higher number of bariatric and aging patients comes an increased demand for skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities that can meet their unique care needs. Historically, bariatric patients have faced challenges when trying to find senior housing.

There are skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) and assisted living facilities (ALFs) that can accommodate obese individuals and provide excellent care, but they may require a bit more effort and research to find.

How to Find a Long-Term Care Facility for an Obese Senior

  1. Specialized Equipment. Ask if a facility has or can obtain bariatric equipment. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) limits how much healthcare workers are allowed to lift, so if your loved one needs help getting in and out of bed, toileting, or bathing, specialized durable medical equipment will be necessary to assist with transfers. This can include larger beds (a standard hospital bed can only hold up to 350 pounds), chairs, wheelchairs and mobility aids, and shower and bath equipment, depending on their needs. A heavier individual may also require an electric patient lift instead of manual equipment like a manual Hoyer lift. 
    Because these items are extremely expensive, the number of beds available to accommodate heavier residents at any given location is typically very limited. Waiting lists are often long, since long-term care facilities are not obligated to accept patients like hospitals are.
  2. Proper training. Patient transfers can be tricky and dangerous for individuals of an average weight, so great care must be taken when professional caregivers assist heavier residents. This is for the patient’s safety and that of the facility’s employees. 
    “The largest risk is the issue of injuring patients and caregivers through improper transfer techniques,” explains Jeff Oldroyd of Holladay Healthcare, a nursing home located in Salt Lake City, Utah. “We do give additional training in these specific transfers to our caregivers. This training is usually provided by experienced nurses and physical therapists.” 
    Do not be afraid to ask the facility about specialized training, experience requirements and protocols for any staff who may be caring for your loved one. Frequent transfers and repositioning can be difficult but are crucial for maintaining proper hygiene and for preventing bedsores or compression ulcers.
  3. Adequate space in living areas. A spacious room or apartment is ideal for larger patients in care facilities, but do not forget to inspect communal areas like dining rooms and activity areas. Isolation can be a real concern for bariatric seniors since their mobility is typically limited. Make sure there is enough space to maneuver a larger wheelchair throughout the facility so your loved one can interact with staff, guests and other residents outside of their room. Creating opportunities for a senior to engage and participate in social and recreational activities will improve their quality of life and may even result in weight management or even weight loss.
  4. Appropriate activities. While resident involvement is important, bariatric patients have specific health and activity needs as well. In many cases, traditional forms of exercise are not feasible or safe for them. Make sure to ask the facility about modified activities for your loved one, especially if they have recently undergone surgery. This is important in a rehabilitation setting where a patient is working to heal and regain or improve their functional abilities. For instance, a facility with a pool and a water therapy program would be a better fit for an overweight senior compared to a facility that only offers typical weight-bearing and moderate-impact exercise programs. However, an experienced physical therapist should be able to adapt a PT regimen to help your loved one meet their personal health care goals.
  5. Compassionate staff. Overweight patients are likely accustomed to comments about weight and physical activity. But, beyond the equipment and therapy, it’s important to know that the staff will see a bariatric patient as more than just a number on the scale. It can be difficult for anyone to find placement in a facility, and you want to make sure any special needs your loved one has will be taken care of with respect and dignity. If a facility has a bariatric bed open, make a point of taking a tour, observing interactions between staff and patients, and interacting with some employees to get a feel for their personalities.
  6. Ask your loved one’s physician. Physicians often have contacts at many skilled nursing, assisted living and rehabilitation facilities in their area. In many cases, they may be your best resource when it comes to finding a reputable facility. Communication between the facility and your loved one’s physician will be key for coordinating ongoing care, so receiving a referral from their doctor will be an added bonus.
    “We do have additional communication with physicians for patients with specialized needs such as obesity,” says Mark Hymas, executive director of Copper Ridge Health Care, a SNF in West Jordan, Utah. “There are specific protocols for each diagnosis, and those symptoms are monitored and shared with physicians in real time. Doctors are then able to make determinations to monitor and adjust treatments.”

Seniors of any size may encounter significant obstacles and frustrations related to their healthcare. Finding a facility with the proper equipment and training, adequate space, appropriate therapy and activity programs, and compassionate staff can be difficult. However, these tips will help guide you in your search for the right care setting for your loved one.

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