~ by Carol Vartuli
For seniors, physical therapy can play a role in maintaining strength and flexibility. It can help them remain independent and agile as we age. We should not just think about physical therapy following an injury or illness.
October is National Physical Therapy Month—a time for raising awareness of the benefits of PT.
Most people associate physical therapy with a period of recuperation after surgery or orthopedic injury. But for seniors, PT also plays a significant preventive role.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) a third of all people over the age of 65 fall each year, making it the leading cause of injury in seniors. Every year, tens of thousands of older people are hospitalized with hip fractures. As many as 20 percent of them die within a year of the injury, while the rest never return to their prior level of function.
As we age, our bodies undergo a natural decline in flexibility, strength and balance, making it harder to maintain desired activity levels, and making us prone to falls. The National Institutes of Health cites physical therapy as a means to mitigate those losses, as well as to increase overall fitness. Fitness equates to independence.
The Osborn’s Director of Rehabilitation Services, Robert D’Elia, says, “In a retirement community we are an ally for our residents in independent living, assisted living, and nursing care, as well those who suffer major medical events. Our major concern is falls, and managing the changes that occur with aging.”
Rehab services at The Osborn include physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Together, these services treat a span of ailments that commonly affect people in their senior years: cardio-pulmonary rehab; speech and movement disorders associated with Parkinson’s disease; and orthopedic issues.
“A lot residents experience chronic pain,” adds D’Elia. “Having lived a full, active life tends to leave you with aches and pains from repeated use. You earned those from being active -- a wonderful thing -- but you do have to live with them.”
Physical therapy can help control the pain of many age-related problems, like arthritis and fatigue. D’Elia’s therapists consult with a pain management physician twice a week on campus. “That, plus therapy,” says D’Elia, “provides a way to manage pain and maintain current levels of function, without falling into the trap of medication dependency.”
Osborn therapists are trained in geriatrics, and treat all the disorders that affect seniors. Among the 10 inpatient, and seven outpatient therapists, there are specialists in orthopedic and neurological disorders, movement and speech disorders and cardio-pulmonary issues.
About 500 people are admitted for inpatient rehabilitation at The Osborn Pavilion each year. Most of them are not residents, but choose The Osborn for their short-term therapy after acute care in hospitals. Residents who need inpatient therapy have the advantage of being seen by the same therapist on an outpatient basis.
Outpatient physical, occupational and speech therapy this year will see nearly 6,000 patient visits.
At The Osborn, “therapists are not just there for major events,” explains D’Elia. “We work with our residents over time, in order to monitor changes and play a preventive role in our approach to strength and balance. We focus on keeping them healthy—not just reacting to events that occur.”
Proactive monitoring also includes residents in Memory Care who may not be able to report their physical issues. Osborn therapists regularly assess balance and mobility, using objective measurements to help predict patients’ risk of falling, and avoid potential injury.
Therapy at The Osborn is actually a way of life. As D’Elia sums it up: “We want to be involved in residents’ lives everyday, as much as food service! We want to know who you are, and we want to work to keep you as active and healthy as possible.
“Our team is grateful for the environment created by The Osborn’s leadership team. It’s an environment where we can deliver our services in the most ethically and clinically appropriate way.”
Bottom line: “This is a place therapists love to work.”