Kermit the frog used to say, “It’s not easy being green”. He knew that the world doesn’t always understand how hard being somewhat different can be. The same is only too true for very large individuals, or bariatrics, and especially for the morbidly obese. It’s not easy being big. Issues that are faced by the obese include fitting into spaces designed for the average sized individual, but they also face challenges of poor balance, problems of adequate hygiene of areas under skin folds, and even complete washing because of the inability to reach parts of their own bodies. Caregivers, too, face significant safety and logistics issues when assisting bariatrics. Unfortunately, the solutions for daily living have not always been designed to address the needs of the obese.
The medical community and the manufacturers of products for individuals with disabilities are now addressing the needs of large individuals.
Before going into the types of bathing support devices now focused on the bariatric community, it is important to truly understand the problems they face. One of the first problems is simply that of access. Getting into a bathroom, for example, that has a 24” door, as many of them have, can present an obstacle that previously could only be addressed by remodeling. And, even if the doorway is large enough, most shower stalls or bathtubs are designed for individuals under 250 pounds, or thereabouts. A 36 X 36 inch shower is simply not going to be usable by someone who weighs 300 pounds or more. And a standard bathtub is out of the question.
But, along with access, balance is another key problem for large individuals. Simply wielding 400 or 600 pounds or more around on a skeletal structure designed for half or a third of that weight presents significant challenges. And, falling can be catastrophic.IF the person can get up by themselves, they continue to face injury issues; but in many cases, an individual of large size simply cannot get themselves up and may suffer further injury when others try to assist. Stepping into a shower stall or a tub, even an over-sized shower or tub, presents dangers of slipping and falling, and poor balance will only exacerbate the problem.
The sheer inability to even reach all parts of their own bodies can make adequate bathing more than only a hygiene issue—it can become a major health issue. Skin folds can hold in body oils and moisture and can become prime locations for both bacterial and fungal infections. Skin breakdown, UTI’s, and other infections can add to the health risks for all individuals of large size.
Accordingly, many very large individuals find that their only real alternatives for bathing are sponge baths or bed baths. We all know, though, that a sponge bath is not a satisfactory solution for the long term. The irony is that more than almost anyone with a disability, the obese need thorough washing and drying to ensure that all parts of their large bodies are kept healthy; but, their size frequently limits them to only the least satisfactory of bathing solutions—sponge baths.
Fortunately, there is more and more help for bariatric bathing coming onto the market. Recognizing that many of these individuals cannot stand up to shower, portable sit-down shower stalls such as the FAWSsit™ Fold Away Wheelchair Shower (Model B5000 Bariatric) are designed specifically to meet the needs of the large individuals with disabilities. The FAWSsit is a completely self-contained shower stall which can be set up anywhere there is access to warm water. So access to a bathroom or to a traditional shower or tub is not a requirement. The FAWSsit can be set up in a kitchen, or a laundry room, or even in a bedroom near a bathroom. By simply running the shower sprayer attachment to a regular sink faucet, there is plenty of warm water available to do an adequate job of washing. The pump on the side of the unit removes the wastewater and the drain hose takes the wastewater straight down the sink drain. And, because the unit is designed to allow a wheelchair to roll straight in, there is no need to step over the side of a tub. For those large individuals who are still able to walk, a simple bariatric sized shower chair inside the stall can be used if a shower/commode wheelchair is not needed.
(For more information on the FAWSsit B5000 Bariatric Fold Away Wheelchair Shower, go to www.fawssit.com, or call 1-877-FAWSsit, or 1-877-329-7748.)
With a portable shower such as the FAWSsit, a caregiver can remain on the outside of the shower stall, but still reach in to assist with bathing, and ensure that all body areas are reached with the water. Clean skin generally means healthy skin, so the use of adequate water all over an individual’s body will help maintain health. Slipping and falling is not a risk for either the individual being bathed or the caregiver.
There are other devices, too, that are important for ensuring adequate hygiene for the obese. Specially designed shower/commode wheelchairs are now being made to accommodate as much as 1000 pounds. With these chairs, in combination with a shower stall, perineal cleaning, and washing of both the back and front of an individual can be accomplished easily, thoroughly and safely.
Blow up bed baths are also an option. While their primary benefit is giving some water immersion, the whole body is still not going to be able to have water flowing over all of the hair and skin, as they would with a shower.
Combining products that are now available can provide solutions to even the most challenging situations. For example, the FAWSsit B5000 shower is now in use by a person who weighs over 600 pounds and is largely bed-bound. By using a heavyweight lift, this individual is able to be lifted from the bed, into the center of the bedroom, where a FAWSsit shower stall is then set up around him. He receives his shower while sitting in the sling, hung from the ceiling of the room. When his shower is complete, the overhead lift swings him back to the bed, where the wet sling can be removed and he can be completely dried off before dressing. The best part is that he now feels safe as well as clean and healthy. And, no re-modeling was required for either the lift or the shower!
Kermit knows he will always be green, as many large individuals know they will always be large. Even though life for both is not easy, at least very large people can now feel better about their hygiene, safety, and health because of new bariatric bathing solutions.