One of the most common questions we get is whether or not assisted living communities are able to handle overweight or obese seniors. The second most common question along those is from family members, and it is their desire to know if assisted living is even appropriate for an obese person. As the population ages out of the workforce, more and more people will be in need of assisted living care. A large percentage of these people will be either be severely overweight, or obese. There have always been seniors who struggled with their weight, however, the number of overweight seniors entering senior care homes has been increasing at an alarming rate.
Many obese seniors will need lifelong care, while others may just need short-term assistance while they recover from a health event. In many cases, a senior without obesity issues may be able to go to an assisted living center for a short-term stay, or even directly home with a care aid. A senior facing the same issue, but paired with a weight problem will have less independence. As a result, many obese seniors may linger in a hospital for an extended time period, or perhaps be assigned to an upgraded facility much further away from their loved ones than they prefer.
Seniors face a wide range of challenges as they age. There is a general decline in health, loss of independence, and in some cases, a loss of mental capacity. Seniors who suffer from obesity must also face weight-related health concerns and an increasing number of mobility issues. Many seniors living with obesity are unable to move very far or very often. As the body ages, the bones become more brittle, and muscle mass also decreases. As seniors with obesity grow older, their bodies are less able to bear their weight, making it hard to walk or even complete basic tasks.
Plenty of assisted living homes will accept and happily care for an overweight senior. The key is finding a community that understands the unique needs of a morbidly obese or overweight senior and works to meet those needs. There are even communities that offer specific programs for obese residents that help to manage their weight during their stay.
Admission requirements for assisted living will vary from one facility to another. There are many assisted living facilities that will deny admission based on a senior's weight. In many cases, if an obese senior seeks temporary admission during their recovery, they will be asked invasive questions. These may be questions such as how many staff members will be needed to help the senior into the bed, or if several staff members would be needed to turn the obese senior over in their bed. This type of screening is hurtful to the senior and also prevents many from getting the help they need to thrive.
While obesity is a problem for all age groups, weight issue in seniors has a measurable cost attached. Obese seniors cost more to care for than other residents in an assisted living home. Communities are not able to charge a resident based on their weight, so in most cases, they must absorb the extra expense. For example, a single caregiver may be able to help a regular-weight senior with their grooming in the space of 15 to 20 minutes. With an obese senior, the very same tasks may require two caregivers and twice the amount of time to complete. The same goes for every aspect of their care starting from bathing to meals.
According to a study by the National Center for Health Statistics which was conducted several years ago, almost 40% of all adults in America are obese. Weight has become a worldwide health concern that is only growing in severity. With an increasing number of aging bariatric people in the population, the need for specialized care and comparable assisted living homes has increased. Bariatric seniors have always faced difficulties when looking for senior housing, and the increasing number of seniors will only make things more difficult. There are many assisted living facilities available to accommodate obese seniors and provide superior care. The main difference is that it will take more time and effort in the form of research to find them.
Depending on the age of the building the assisted living community is housed in, changes may be required to accommodate an obese resident. Locations that regularly house overweight patients will have doors with wider frames, and plumbing that is crafted to support reinforced toilets. Most seniors will bring their own furniture, such as their beds when they move into an assisted living community, but not every senior will do so. A standard bed in an assisted living facility will generally be able to hold 350 pounds. An assisted living home that accommodates obese seniors will feature extra-wide beds, which can cost as much as $5,000 each.
Depending on the general mobility levels of the obese seniors in residence, wheelchair-friendly assisted living in the form of larger wheelchairs, motorized lifts, blood pressure cuffs, and specialized bathroom elements may be required. Not every assisted living community will have these features available to all of its residents. Medicaid does cover some cost of assisted senior care, but specialized equipment for obese senior care is not covered.
It is also important for caregivers to understand the unique challenges and needs that come with a senior who is battling with obesity. While a normal resident may be encouraged to take a walk around the site, with an obese or very overweight senior, there will need to be support rails and resting areas located at various points in the facility.
There are a few ways to go about locating and choosing assisted living communities that have specific accommodations for seniors who struggle with their weight. The first step would be to perform a local online search. This can draw a list of several local locations that either accept obese seniors or have special programs to help obese residents.
Another option is to get in touch with the local Area Agency on Aging. There is one for every city and county in the US. This office is given resources through federal, state, and local programs to help seniors with elder care, medical, housing and caregiver concerns. In many cases, they can give you a list or a referral to a specific assisted living facility that caters to your needs. Many of these agencies will have contacts within local assisted living facilities, offer senior counseling, and even provide access to health and nutrition programs for seniors.
Some seniors or their families may decide it is easier to hire a senior placement agency or senior living advisor to help secure housing to fit your needs. Many of these groups or independent agents are experts in the field of senior care. They will do the hard work for you, that is the hours of research and phone calls to ensure a good fit for your needs. In most cases this service is free, and they receive a commission from the assisted living facility if you choose to enroll.
Proper Training – Patient transfers are always a critical step in any care setting. With seniors, transfers should be completed with extra care. When you have an obese senior, moving with the use of multiple caregivers requires proper training, planning, and communication to ensure safety. One of the main concerns of obese seniors in an assisted living home is the accidental injury that can occur during a transfer. Make sure to ask about past training, protocols, and safeguards that are in place to keep your loved one safe.
Specialized Equipment – Obese seniors and those with bariatric complications will need specialized equipment while living in an assisted living environment. When you call or visit the home, ask if they have bariatric equipment on hand, or if they are able to obtain such equipment. OSHA has a firm limit on the total weight a healthcare worker is allowed to pick up for their own safety. If the senior will need help bathing, getting out of bed, using the restroom or any other activity that requires lifting, specialized durable medical equipment will be required for transfers.
Extra Large Furniture – Obese seniors will need larger beds, wider wheelchairs, stronger chairs and aids to help with their mobility. Sometimes, an assisted living home will have these on hand, other times you may have to purchase your own or find a new location. Bath and shower rooms will also need to be larger and have seating accommodations for easy use. Unless the facility is tailored to care for obese seniors, chances are there will be a waiting list for the few rooms available that can accommodate obese residents.
Adequate Space – A large room to live in may be easy to find in an assisted living home if you don’t mind paying for a single room. Space concerns come into play when dealing with other areas such as the bathroom, common areas, nursing station, and other activity locations. Obese seniors are not able to move as far or as much as regular residents so a layout that prevents isolation is critical. Ask for a tour and check to see if a large wheelchair would be able to easily maneuver through mot doors and hallways.
Compassionate Caregivers – Being overweight is hard on the body, and it is hard in the mind. Most obese seniors have heard just about every comment possible regarding their weight. Telling them that the only way to lose weight is with physical activity but not providing support can cause feelings of depression and sadness. It is important that you choose an assisted living location that treats obese seniors in the same way that they treat their other residents, with respect. Finding the right assisted living community can be a challenge for anyone, but adding in obesity can make it especially difficult. Look for a location that is able to cater to the special needs of the senior with respect and dignity.
Healthy Activities – Chances are if a senior has not lost a significant amount of weight before arriving in an assisted living home, they will not lose much after they enroll. Of course, the controlled environment will help with their health, but it is important to find a location that also offers healthy activities. Assisted living homes that offer modified exercise programs or other therapeutic activities will be highly beneficial. If the senior is recovering from a medical event, such as surgery, this is especially important. Locations that offer water therapy are a great match for obese seniors because it is much better than facilities that only offer weight-bearing physical activity.
At the end of the day, the cost of assisted living care is what will determine which facility a senior selects. Medical devices and aids for obese seniors are quite costly. An average walker will cost around $100, however, one made for an obese senior will range closer to $350. Wheelchairs, beds, chairs, and bathroom equipment also all have higher costs when being used by an obese senior. On average, the cost of living for an obese senior citizen in an assisted care home will be $1,500 more than those who have a lower weight.
The care needs of seniors battling obesity are also much more complex. The caregivers tasked with their care must be stronger and, in most cases, the assisted living facility must have more staff on hand. Many obese seniors are bedridden and must be turned, bathed and transferred on a regular basis. This requires special training, extra staff, and more dedicated time for their care. Obese seniors will also need larger living quarters which allow for sturdier furniture as well as more room for caregivers to provide assistance. While many assisted living locations are able to offer these extra accommodations, they also come with an increased monthly fee.
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