A Practical Guide to Seating Bariatric Patients

By Martina Tierney, OT

Seating a bariatric person is complex and there are many factors to consider. It’s not as simple as providing a wider chair!

Seating bariatric patients presents many challenges to both the patient and caregivers. A lack of planning and proper equipment can significantly increase the risk of manual handling injuries, pressure damage and increased length of stay.

Before selecting a chair, the weight of the client, their body proportions, physical dimensions, range of movement, mobility and transfers need to be carefully considered. Additionally, the needs and safety of caregivers must be taken into account.

Mistakes & Challenges When Seating Bariatric Patients

Not getting correct measurements

The most common challenge when seating patients with a bariatric condition is getting the measurements of the patient correct.

This can be often a daunting task and clinicians may require extra help to make sure the measurements are as accurate as possible.

It is always better to take extra care getting the measurements right and the chair set up correctly first time around.

Adjusting the chair when the patient is already seated in it can be very difficult and cause manual handling risks. Additionally, it is beneficial to everyone involved that unnecessary transfers to adjust the chair or the patient’s position are minimised.

Not accommodating the Gluteal Shelf

The presence of a gluteal shelf, or bulbous gluteal region in some bariatric patients can make it more difficult to give patients the full back support that they need. The extra tissue in the posterior lumbar region often forces patients to sit forward in their chair, which leaves their back unsupported. This position can be dangerous, causing long term postural complications and also making the patient feel as if they are being pushed forward.

Not accommodating the Gluteal Shelf increases the risk of patient falls

Incorrect Seat Depth and Seat Height

A patient is more at risk of developing pressure injuries in interface areas if the seat is not making maximum contact to load the body. Improper loading can lead to an uneven distribution of weight on interface areas. The seat depth and seat height needs to be adjusted to match the patients’ leg length but must be at an appropriate length so as to avoid pulling the patient forward and into a sacral sitting position.

No Footplate to support the feet

Of the few bariatric chairs that do have tilt in space, they often do not come with appropriate footplates. Approximately 19% of a person’s weight is exerted through the feet in sitting, a key area prone to pressure injury development. However, with patients who have a bariatric condition, this percentage can be greater due to the weight of the abdomen resting on the legs. When chairs do not have footplates and are reclined or titled, you are actually increasing the interface pressure instead of decreasing the pressure the patient experiences.

Not supporting the patient’s feet can lead to sliding from a chair. This increases pressure damage risks from shear and friction as well as being a falls risk.

Not Accommodating Calves

The correct leg rest and calf pad is an important function to consider in seating patients who have a bariatric condition. With larger calves, there is often increased risk from falls during standing as the feet can be positioned far in front of the patient when the calf pad does not accommodate the mass of the patients’ legs. The leg rest must accommodate larger calves to help maintain a typical 90 degree knee flexion posture, and to enable a safe, stable standing position.

No Back Angle Recline or Tilt in Space

It is well known that tilt in space can aid repositioning, improve respiration and reduce the risk of pressure injuries. For patients with a bariatric condition who have decreased mobility and other medical issues, often the need for tilt in space is magnified but many bariatric chairs do not provide this important function.

The Risks of Improper Seating

1. Manual Handling Risk to Patient and Caregiver

Seating patients with a bariatric condition can pose risks to clinicians and staff alike. The unique body shape and increased weight and size of the patient can increase the risk of injury to caregivers. The patient too can be at risk of manual handling injuries when working with improper equipment that does not provide support and stability.

2. Limitations in Mobility and Independence

The patients themselves can suffer even further from limitations in mobility, and reduction in independence due to improper seating. It is important to encourage early mobilisation when suitable and begin the rehabilitation process as soon as possible. Improper seating can inhibit this vital piece of the treatment plan.

3. Longer Hospital Stays and Increased Risks of Pressure Ulcers

Due to the difficulties incurred in transferring patients who have a bariatric condition, it has often been the case that these patients remain in bed for longer and longer, increasing the risk of pressure ulcers and decreasing their mobility even further. Instability provided from an improper chair can lead to pelvic tilts, further increasing the risk of pressure ulcers in high interface areas.

A Bariatric Seating Solution

The Bariatric Sorrento

The journey of developing this chair was a long and careful one. I wanted to create something that was user friendly and easily moved and respected the dignity of the user of the chair.

The process of design, testing and clinical evaluation were focused around these goals:

  • Can increase the mobility of patients with a bariatric condition, help with transfers and encourage early mobilisation
    In sit to stand transfers, the anterior tilt function empowers the patient to be more independent and can reduce the need for caregiver assistance and/or the use of patient lifts/hoists. This gives the patient more confidence and independence, encouraging them to be more mobile.

  • Can reduce the risk of moving and manual handling injuries
    The easily removable arms on the Bariatric Sorrento assist with side transferring or sling application and removal.  The powered tilt options can give the user the ability to control their angle of tilt, back angle recline, and therefore pressure redistribution.  These functions make the adjustments effortless and easily performed by the patient or carer. This in turn can help reduce risk of unnecessary injuries.

  • Can reduce length of stay in hospitals and care environments for patients with a bariatric condition
    The Bariatric Sorrento is mobile and perfectly suitable for a home environment, meaning patients do not need to be resigned to bed rest in a hospital or care home for longer than necessary. The chair provides optimum pressure management and therefore reduces length of stay in hospitals or care environments by drastically reducing the risk of developing pressure ulcers. Everything down to the chair dimensions were carefully considered – even the widest Bariatric Sorrento will fit through a normal door frame.

  • Can accommodate the gluteal shelf and unique body proportions of patients with a bariatric condition
    Due to the extra tissue in the posterior lumbar region, bariatric patients are often resigned to sitting forward in their chair, which leaves their back unsupported.  The Bariatric Sorrento has a removable cushion at the lumbar level to help accommodate the gluteal shelf, whilst providing full back and leg support.

  • Can encourage more independence, greater functional ability and therefore improve the psychological health of the patient sitting in the chair
    As it accommodates individuals up to 294kg, we often hear that the Bariatric Sorrentois the only solution that has let their patient or loved one get out of bed, and sit upright for a long time.  The difference in bed rest versus seating on a patients’ psychological health cannot be underestimated. Prolonged bed rest often leads to various health complications which are eliminated or vastly reduced if we can get the patient to sit in a proper chair, i.e. contractures, digestive problems, as well as fatigue and depression. In sitting up, they can often perform minor tasks for themselves that they might not be able to do on bed rest i.e. read, write, and self feed.

  • Can reduce risk of pressure and provide optimal pressure redistribution
    Pressure risk whilst using the Bariatric Sorrento can be reduced through various functions such as the back angle recline and tilt in space, which can enable safe and easy pressure distribution. They are motor controlled by the patient or caregiver. 

*Note – the purpose of this blog is to give an overview of the product with some tips to consider on its use. This is not intended to be a substitute for professional or medical advice, diagnosis, prescription or treatment and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. For advice with your personal health or that of someone in your care, consult your doctor or appropriate medical professional.

* Note: The Seating Assessment carried out by the Seating Specialist is to provide information and advice on the product only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional or medical advice, diagnosis, prescription or treatment, and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. For diagnosis or treatment of any medical problem, consult your own doctor or physician.

Share on:
Join our mailing list to get practical tips and latest research delivered to your inbox!
Download Your Copy Of 'The Clinician's Seating Handbook'

This practical guide by world-renowned OT, Martina Tierney will assist you in the prescription and use of therapeutic seating for patients with various conditions. It’s the best place to start.

Download your free copy now.