Caring for the bariatric resident

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Navigating the tumultuous road of caring for bariatric residents is a challenge faced by many long-term care facilities today.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70.7% of adults in the United States are struggling with obesity and being overweight. Because this number continues to climb, the need for bariatric durable medical equipment has increased as well.

Bariatric-specific equipment is designed to assist with everyday function, including personal hygiene, mobility, bathing, toileting, grooming and skin protection to maximize independent and functional potential. Because overweight and morbidly obese residents often have decreased lung volume, vascular insufficiency and unstable blood sugar, functionally they face steep odds. Simple tasks like getting out of bed can become nearly impossible — for both the resident and caregiver. This is where the critical role of bariatric DME comes into play.

Using the right equipment or technology on the right type of patient will help both the resident and the caregiver and affect the right clinical outcome. Everyone wins.

But a one-size-fits-all approach will surely create losers. If you have bariatric residents, specialized equipment is needed to provide quality care and avoid serious safety risks to staff and the residents alike. Using the most appropriate equipment for each resident's situation or problem is critical to maintaining their wellbeing and may contribute to more positive responses during surveys.

For example, in addition to sleep-related problems due to difficulty or inability to turn and reposition themselves during the night, bariatric residents are also at a higher risk for developing skin breakdown due to the increased pressure created by added weight, increased shear during movement, increased maceration and impaired mobility, among other factors. Specialized features on support surfaces can make turning and repositioning residents quick, easy and safe while helping to prevent and/or treat pressure injuries.

Many DME product categories, including mobility, support surfaces and bathroom safety are available as a bariatric sub-segment of products.  For example, there are rollators, commodes, toilet seats, self-adjusting, low air and alternating pressure mattresses, fully electric beds and walkers specially designed for the bariatric resident. Look for manufacturers whose products have higher weight limits on standard and bariatric models. Longer warranties are also important because these products must be made extra sturdy and robust to withstand the rigors of regular and daily use. Utilizing bariatric equipment that is attractive, easy-to-use and helpful to both residents and caregivers will enable long-term facilities to offer improved care for this unique and increasing group of residents.

In order to accomplish the goal of caring for bariatric residents, significant education for the resident and staff is vital. Examples include transferring and repositioning for proper hygiene, pressure injury prevention and proper body mechanics. The more education provided, the fewer injuries accrued by residents and staff, ensuring a safer and more pleasant environment for all.

Bariatric DME education also helps keep the bariatric resident “in the loop” when it comes to their care. This helps achieve compliance and positive outcomes, rather than perpetuate continual reliance on the staff. By developing and implementing bariatric specific equipment strategies, the chances of successful outcomes increase drastically.

Karen Lerner, RN, MSN, ATP, CWS, is a registered nurse and wound care and rehab specialist with more than 25 years of industry experience. She has extensive experience as a public speaker, educating DME providers and clinicians on a variety of topics, as well as speaking engagements that include testifying before Congress on behalf of the HME industry.

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