Many senior adults can improve their physical, mental, and emotional health after an illness or injury through rehab or physical therapy. A team of professionals, which includes physical, occupational, and speech therapists and other health and social services professionals, can restore flexibility, increase strength, reduce pain, build endurance, improve speech, enhance confidence, and restore the body’s ability to perform tasks.

Below are just some of the advantages of tapping into rehab resources to prevent future injuries for seniors.

Fall Prevention and Recovery

Kathy Adkins, Director of Quality and Occupational Therapist; and Stacey Hodgman, RN and Vice President of Care Management, work for RehabCare, which is part of Kindred Rehabilitation Services. RehabCare provides rehabilitation services nationwide, including for Bethesda communities, and helps seniors rebuild their lives physically and emotionally.

For example, according to the National Aging Council, falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among seniors, and one in three seniors fall each year. However, studies show that physical therapy programs that provide a focus on strength, balance, flexibility, good posture, and proper walking gait can reduce the incidence of falls by 30 to 50 percent. Fewer falls translate into fewer hospital readmissions and injuries due to falls.

Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that makes them weak and brittle, and this is a common condition among seniors. A regular exercise plan provided by a physical therapist can slow bone mass loss, build muscle, increase flexibility and balance, and help prevent falls.

Recovery From Surgery

Rehab after surgery provides important benefits for seniors, including:

  • Strengthening muscles
  • Speeding recovery
  • Reducing pain
  • Improving mobility and flexibility

Therapists can identify areas of pain and provide exercise regimens to ease discomfort. This reduces reliance on pain medications, which can cause lethargy or confusion for seniors. It also helps avoid the use of other pain-reducing medications like opioids, which can have serious addiction consequences.

Lack of movement places people at a higher risk for pneumonia, skin problems, and other infections. Supervised movement and exercise wards off other potential health problems associated with surgery or physical inactivity.

Supervised strength training rebuilds muscle mass resulting from inactivity following surgery. “The key to physical therapy is about getting the body moving,” says Kathy. “When patients move more, they are better able to recover and handle more daily activities. This not only builds confidence, but it also gives them an incentive to keep improving their health.”

Cardiac Rehabilitation

Cardiac rehabilitation includes supervised exercise programs and education on nutrition, medications, and lifestyle improvement. It helps heart patients become stronger and less likely to experience another cardiac event. Cardiac rehab is estimated to be as effective as medications in preventing future heart problems. Cardiac patients have 25 to 30 percent fewer fatal heart events after rehab.

Other benefits of cardiac rehab include weight control, improved circulation, blood pressure control, lower cholesterol levels, and better management of diabetes—all of which may lessen dependence on medications. Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can benefit as well.

Cognitive Function and Rehab

According to Kathy, people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can benefit from exercise, both physically and cognitively. “It’s important for us to evaluate where they are in the disease process,” she says. “We take them as they are and help them exercise and remember the movements of the exercise. We also encourage activities they have always enjoyed like dancing or gardening. It definitely helps seniors maintain the skills they have for a longer period of time.”

Health Literacy and Your Rehab Team

Another area of concern Stacey lists is health literacy. “Health literacy is about how well people understand health information and how they should use it,” she says.

A patient’s rehab team can be a vital source of information in explaining the treatment plan and other aspects of their medical care. Even people with good literacy skills may struggle to know what they should do and why. The ability to understand their care and make appropriate health decisions directly affects the health and wellbeing of patients.

Motivation Makes a Big Difference in Healing

Kathy remembers one patient in particular. “A man who had retired from the Navy had a massive stroke,” she says. “He had gone through inpatient rehab and then came to the skilled nursing facility where I was working. When he arrived, he was in a wheelchair, unable to walk, and slumped to one side of the chair. He had no motivation to participate in therapy,” she remembers.

But Kathy, searching for a way to encourage her patient, discovered that as a young man he had been a boxer in the Navy. The facility had a Wii, and Kathy got him on his feet for the Wii boxing game.

“He became so excited that he wanted to do it every day,” she recalls. “We used it as a reward for completing his other therapy exercises. When he left the facility, he was walking with a cane. He came into my office to say goodbye on his way home, and he hugged me with the biggest smile on his face and thanked me for motivating him.”

“Delivering person-centered care is now a requirement of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,” says Stacey. “Individual patient goals and desires have to become a part of the patient’s care plan, and a motivated patient is more likely to participate in therapy and have better outcomes.”

Activities of Daily Living Help Seniors Prevent Future Injuries

Occupational therapists like Kathy focus on activities of daily living—the things people do every day like bathing, dressing, cooking meals, doing the wash, preparing grocery lists, or calculating a household budget.

The capacity to perform these basic skills increases personal safety for the patient, as well as providing an improved sense of independence. It also builds momentum for a healthier lifestyle. “People who continue to move and maintain or enhance their skills tend to keep exploring their possibilities,” Kathy says.

If you or your senior loved one have recently been injured or had a hospital stay, consider Rehab and Therapy services to prevent future injuries. Contact us to learn more about Bethesda’s Rehab and Therapy services for seniors in St. Louis.