Caring for bariatric clients - why one size doesn't fit all

3 minute(s) to read

Sharon Woodward remembers how shocked she felt as a new occupational therapist graduate when she first met one particular bariatric client in South Auckland.

“This gentleman couldn’t fit through doorways in his home so he lived in his lounge. He was in a standard lounge chair that didn’t cater to his particular positioning requirements and he toileted in a commode which his family had to empty. It was quite inhumane.”

Major house alterations were subsequently undertaken based on Sharon’s advice to widen doorways and open up the bathroom space. A sit-to-stand chair gave her client more independence and the ability to have a shower for the first time in years.

“I didn’t really understand before I became an OT that basic human rights like toileting and showering are not a right for some people, they are a privilege. While this man had really good family support, in terms of the general bariatric population there is a lot of depression, anxiety, and social stigma around being overweight. But there is a lot of equipment out there for bariatric clients that can make a huge difference to their quality of life, and that of their caregivers.”

As an experienced NZROT and Equipment Advisor for Cubro, Sharon will share her advice on how to take different body shapes and types into account when selecting equipment to assist with pressure care, sleeping, showering and other daily living tasks.

“We’ll be looking at how to assess different products in relation to a client’s body shape,” she explains. “Bariatric care isn’t a case of one size fits all. The weight of the client is only one tiny piece of the puzzle and we can cater to the individual.


‘Caring for bariatric clients’ is the theme of Sharon’s seminar presentation at the 2022 Assistive Technologies Suppliers New Zealand (ATSNZ) Disability Expo, to be held at the Vodafone Events Centre in Manukau from 28-29th September.

“Some people carry more weight in their upper or lower body, some might have more on the inside or outside of their thighs. Where does their tummy sit? Is it above the waist or below the waist? In the past, the approach was ‘’you’re this size so we’ll chuck you on this chair’’. But we now know that getting people correctly positioned is much safer for them and for caregivers.”

Common challenges that caregivers face include how to turn and transfer bariatric clients safely without over-reaching, straining their back or having the client lose their balance and fall on top of them. 

“Choosing the right equipment is as much about looking after the caregiver as it is about looking after the client’s needs.”

Obesity rates are increasing worldwide and a lot more equipment solutions now exist, Sharon says.

“There’s definitely more resources, support and equipment coming out that can cater for the bariatric population. However, we do need to really upskill ourselves because as therapists, we are going to see these clients more often in our daily practice. So, there’s a lot of information and resources out there.. However, we need to access them and upskill ourselves.”

Sharon has over 15 years’ experience as an NZROT and is one of three OTs based at Cubro’s head office who support OTs from around New Zealand to find the right equipment for individual clients. “We’re there to problem solve and assist with funding applications and justifications,” Sharon says. “I’m like an extra colleague and act as a sounding board to best meet a client’s needs.”

Sharon also keeps herself up-to-speed with the latest learning and education on a wide variety of topics, and enjoys sharing that knowledge internally with Cubro’s staff and externally with New Zealand’s wider therapy community.

Sharon’s 45 minute ‘Caring for bariatric clients’ seminar presentation will be held on day one of the ATSNZ Disability Expo (Wednesday 28th September) at 3pm. For more information visit