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OTs are vital in bariatric care

Occupational therapists are playing an increasingly important role in dealing with obese patients, both in hospital and in the community.

With obesity rates on the rise, hospitals, clinics and GP practices are facing a new challenge: how to provide safe, effective treatment for bariatric patients. It's an issue that's particularly relevant for occupational therapists.Their skills and expertise are not only useful in the care of bariatric patients in clinical settings. Along with other allied health professionals such as dietitians, OTs can also provide vital advice and support on lifestyle changes to prevent and treat obesity.

Obesity rates in the UK are the highest in Europe. More importantly, they have increased dramatically over the last few years. According to Public Health England, the proportion of obese adults in the population rose from 14.9% to 25.6% between 1993 and 2014. 

Occupational therapists can receive useful CPD training in bariatric patient handling methods. It's not just about ensuring the patient is cared for safely and with dignity. It's also about protecting OTs, nurses and other staff members from injury.

There's also a wide range of equipment and resources available to help with management of bariatric patients, including heavy-duty patient lifts, specially designed beds and power wheelchairs. In June, #OTalk held an interesting Twitter chat on the subject of seating patients with a bariatric condition.  Read an online transcript here.

One innovative device is the Bari-suit®, which mimics the proportions, shape and movement of a bariatric patient. Designed to be worn during training sessions, it enables occupational therapists and nursing staff to experience for themselves the mobility restrictions an obese patient has to deal with. It also offers them the opportunity to practise moving and handling techniques without using a real patient.

When it comes to prevention and treatment of obesity itself, OTs can play an important role in encouraging positive lifestyle changes. Traditionally, obesity treatment focused predominantly on medical issues. However, there is now much more emphasis on supporting obese patients through community health promotion programmes, as well as home adaptations and the provision of assistive technologies.

In evidence to a parliamentary committee in 2013, the College of Occupational Therapists wrote, "In tertiary care the occupational therapy role within bariatric teams includes addressing problems with daily activities, improving mobility within home and community, increasing physical stamina, teaching relaxation and communication skills and use of techniques such as motivational interviewing to change activity patterns and eating habits"

If trends continue, it's predicted that, by 2050, obesity could be seen in 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% of children. Making the most of the skills and expertise of our OT workforce is an important part of the solution.

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