How do we deal with the care my obese father needs?

5 answers | Last updated: Oct 29, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Help! I don't know what to do. My father is 61 years old and weighs about 500 pounds. He refuses to tell us exactly how much he weighs, but that is my best estimate. He's about 5 feet 4 inches tall and his waist is 70 inches.

He can't stand, nor can he barely move. In the last 3 weeks, he has fallen FIVE times and couldn't get up any of those times. He has had to call 911 each time to have them send the fire department to come lift him up. It's taken five people each time to lift him up.

My mom has to bring all of his meals to him. My mother can't take it anymore - I fear she is close to having a mental breakdown. She flies off the handle and starts snapping/yelling at me and my sister for the littlest and most minor of things because she is frustrated with taking care of my father.

He kind of rolls off the bed into a wheelchair and she has to push him to the bathroom where he walks the one step from the wheelchair to the toilet to use it. I have tried talking to his doctor numerous times and his doctor just tells him to take more pain medication for his problems. Hello? Pain medication is not going to help him lose weight, or move better. My father refuses to believe that his weight is a problem. He won't listen to my mother, myself, or my brother.

I really think it's time for him to move to some sort of assisted living facility, but he refuses to listen when I bring up this idea.

What can I do?


Expert Answers

Kay Paggi, GCM, LPC, CGC, MA, is in private practice as a geriatric care manager and is on the advisory board for the Emeritus Program at Richland College. She has worked with seniors for nearly 20 years as a licensed professional counselor, certified gerontological counselor, and certified geriatric care manager.

Caring for an obese parent is challenging because there are two questions. One is how to deal with the extra weight and the other is why food is such an issue for this person.

To begin with the second part, I suggest that you look for a physician in your community that addresses weight and diet issues. Your father cannot see his weight as a problem because he cannot consider the possibility of living without whatever need the food is meeting. He shold be checked medically for metabolic conditions, such as diabetes and body chemistry imbalances. You can hire an ambulance service that transports wheelchair patients to take him to the doctor.

The goal of seeing a physician is to establish that he does or does not have a metabolic disorder that can be treated, and to help you and your father understand the long term consequences to his health of his curent weight. Almost certainly his heart is affected.

The point is not to try to scare him into losing weight but just to understand the consequences. If he could lose weight, he already would have; he has probably tried numerous times and failed. Understanding that he has a problem he he has not been able to fix will help you be more supportive.

Next the question of how to deal with the additional weight. I tend to take a tough love position. While he may be helpless with regard to losing weight, you and your mother are also helpless to help him reduce the pounds. Help your mother set limits on what she will do for him. She can refuse to cook foods that are fatty. She can refuse to bring him his meals, and insist that he find a way to get to the table on his own. She can place a urinal near his wheelchair and insist that he manage that need without her assistance.

Your mother is enabling him to maintain his current weight. She probably doesn't recognize her part in the problem but suggesting that she manage her responses may help her recognize that she is part of the problem.

Once the family is working together to solve a mutual problem, the results are morelikely to be postive. As it is now, you and your mother are on one side against your father. This really isn't helpful. The family as a unit can decide whether he needs to live in a different setting. A facility will use a hoyer lift to transfer him. You might look into buying or renting this device or other assistive devices as part of the family effort to deal successfully with this very complex issue.


Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

This will be hard to do,as I expect the dad will do his best to control his caretaker. It may work, or really backfire having him use a urinal. His male part is probably hidden in a huge fold of fat.
As for motivating him to get to his food instead of bringing it him, could work. I have seen those who were nearly one thousand pounds, get up out of bed and walk the 20 feet to the table to get the fried chicken. He knows how his weight is affection him, and is probably upset with being so huge. But I know that all the talking will not help do anything but make him more hard headed about it. I wish you luck in your quest. Maybe if he was removed from home to a care center, he MIGHT get motivated to lose weight and come home.


Deafmack answered...

I have two people I am taking care of, My sister who has progressive brain damage from radiation for brain cancer and my Mother who has Scleroderma with Pulmonary Hypertension and gastroparesis as side effects of the Scleroderma. My Sister can be very manipulative, but I think a lot of it is based on fear and we are working on one thing at a time. One thing is that the suggestions you have been given are really good. I would focus on one change at a time. Maybe first focus on providing your dad with a healthier diet by getting a referral to a nutritionist from his doctor. Secondly see about getting transportation via cabulance or public disabled access. Secondly see about getting him a power chair to help with mobility and getting him more freedom. Also there is an exercise program called "Sit and Be Fit" which you can find online and it is exercise program for people who use wheelchairs or have limited mobility. The urinal is a good idea or even asking for his doctor to order a commode which can be by his bedside will help as well. One thing is that everyone has to be on the same page. If you all are thinking you have a better idea then it won't work. Also since a lot of your dad's behavior or refusal to try things may be fear based it is important to encourage him. Take one step at a time. I wish you the best.


Prabhakar answered...

Any healthy man about 60 should be able to attend to all his personal work, like walking, sitting, and getting food from the table etc. This is bare minimum.

Now you dad is either not able to do it, or does not want to do it.

He is not able to do it because of his too excessive body weight. In his mind he must have acknowledged it. But he does not want it, as he considers it a luxury to be assisted in all things by others and provided food at his bed. So long as this is done to him, he will not try to shake his hand and legs.

First of all, he needs to be told bluntly that wife, son and daughter are not personal servants of any healthy man. Illness is a different case. He be told to attend to all the work himself, if he does not consider his overweight as problem, and he considers himself as healthy. I suggest all of you withdraw for about half a day, watch from a distance and let him feel the pinch. His thinking needs to be shaken first of all.

Offer all help and support to him to help him reduce weight, get him examined and treated medically, if necessary. Call a nutritionist and let him explain all things desired to reduce weight. Let you support him fully in the period.

Once he is reconciled and made to reconcile mentally, he will work towards it.


Danlyn answered...

First of all, hats off to your mom. She's got her hands full. So when she gets upset, everyone should be understanding to her plite. And, your father should be appreciative of the sacrifices she's making in time and energy to care for him. I think he should be made fully aware of the issues he's creating in the rest of the family's lives as well. Especially your mom's as primary caregiver. Let him know that you love him and care about his well being, but that he is not alone in this equation. He has to consider others. Also let him know what alternatives are be explored, if no changes can be made. For health purposes, I suggest cleaning out the cabinets and refrigerator of unhealthy foods and replacing with healthy alternatives (lots of vegetables and fruits). Maybe explore different recipes to make eating healthy more appealing. If he's in a wheelchair and not very mobile, he probably won't be going shopping for food. Thus, his caregiver is in charge. He may grumble for a short while, but it will be well worth it in the long run. His attitude may even change for the better, because he will start to feel better about himself.