Health Care InformationFriday, August 22, 2014
Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Help You Handle Aging at Home
Sometimes the worst happens. No matter how careful you might be, there are many different risk factors that can make your chances of suffering a fall unpredictable.
If you do suffer a fall, the injuries you could sustain can require a significant amount of nursing care or an extended stay at a rehabilitation center. Older adults who fall can incur head trauma, spinal fractures, hip fractures and other significant injuries that can limit your mobility and inhibit your ability to function as usual.
Not every fall victim makes a full recovery.
Sometimes injuries incurred in a fall are catastrophic. A heavy blow to the head or a spinal fracture might leave you permanently off-balance, or worse, unable to move your arms and legs. After discharge from a trauma unit, many older adults are often transferred to a Long-Term Acute Care Hospital (LTACH) or Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF, or "sniff"). The care plan for a reduced-mobility patient in these facilities might include:
- Assistance with basic needs, such as feeding, bathing, dressing and medication management
- Wound care and pressure sore prevention, especially for patients who cannot yet get out of bed
- Intensive physical therapy to regain mobility, or preserve remaining limb function
- Occupational therapy, to re-learn how to perform daily tasks
Starting rehabilitation as soon as possible after a fall can prevent further damage.
Without regular use, muscles and bones degenerate. This process is known as atrophy, and it can create greater difficulty for a fall patient down the road.
Physical (PTs) and occupational therapists (OTs) will often work closely with your medical team to devise and implement a therapy regimen as soon as the patient is medically cleared to begin rehab. This may start while you or your loved one is still in a trauma unit, continue through a stay at an LTACH or SNF and even carry on following discharge to home or an assisted living facility.
PTs help to mobilize and strengthen injured extremities. They may guide a recovering fall patient through:
- Weight-bearing exercises to strengthen muscles surrounding major joints, such as knees, ankles, hips and elbows
- Core-strengthening exercises to improve balance and posture
- Flexibility training to increase range of motion
- Isometric exercises to improve muscle tone
OTs might assist a post-fall patient with:
- Re-learning how to write or speak
- Re-learning how to feed, bathe, cook for or dress one's self
- Training a patient how to use a mobility assistance device, such as a walker, wheelchair or chair lift
- Developing strategies for preventing future falls, such as re-arranging household furniture to be less cluttered, or lowering shelves to improve accessibility
You have some control in your own rehabilitation process.
Even after you have been released from physical therapy, you still need to continue practicing caution to reduce your risk of suffering another fall and further injury.
Devising and sticking with a regular strength-training and balance-improving exercise program is important. You might consider working with your physical therapist to determine the safest and most beneficial exercise program for your mobility level.
Effective programs might include:
- Water exercise, such as swimming or pool-based aerobics
- Tai Chi
- Guided weight-training
- Walking or jogging, if you are able
As always, lifestyle changes might be warranted.
- If you smoke, quit. Smoking reduces lung and cardiovascular function, which puts undue stress on your body.
- If you are overweight, reduce portions and exercise! Carrying extra weight increases tension on your joints and makes recovery from fall-related bone injuries more difficult.
Be sure to remove trip hazards or obstacles at home and in your workplace. Install handrails in corridors, substitute ramps for stairs if necessary and buy non-slip mats for your bathroom and kitchen.