The Rising Problem of Obese Patients in Nursing Homes

Obesity is becoming an increasing problem for the older adult population, and that includes residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. These care facilities are having more and more difficulty caring for this new group of severely obese patients. According to a recent article published in The New York Times, the number of obese older adults becoming nursing home residents is growing faster than the ability of nursing homes to handle them. “We don’t have adequate staff. We don’t have adequate equipment. We don’t have adequate knowledge,” says Cheryl Phillips, senior vice president of LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit sponsors of services for elderly people.

One of the primary problems is that while the demand from the morbidly obese patient population surges, nursing homes are unable to effectively care for them due to the fact that Medicaid does not reimburse these facilities for the specialized equipment required: motorized lifts; larger wheelchairs, bedside commodes, and shower chairs; and longer intramuscular needles and blood pressure cuffs.

The population of obese older adults is on a continuous rise—38% of Americans ages 60 and older are obese and one in twenty older adults is morbidly obese. Doctors believe that weight loss is neither realistic nor advisable for these patients. Attempting to lose weight can be dangerous for obese patients who are already at high risk of muscle loss and frailty despite their size, increasing their vulnerability to fractures.