Tomorrow is National Senior Health and Fitness Day, and thousands of seniors will participate in activities that promote healthy living for older adults. Therapists in every setting are involved, not just tomorrow, but year-round with helping geriatric patients achieve and maintain a level of health and fitness that helps them be safe and independent. We asked a few RehabVisions therapists to share how the post-care involvement manifests in their respective settings.
Rehab Director Steve Finn, PT gets seniors involved with the Functional Standards for Optimal Aging—the moving target screen. This includes research¹ on physical fitness standards for older adults that predicts the ability to maintain independence later in life.
“The screen evaluates upper and lower body strength, aerobic endurance, agility and dynamic balance,” says Steve. “From age 60 to 90 there is an anticipated 40 percent decline in function. These standards demonstrate to a person in their 60’s what level they should be at with the anticipated 40 percent decline, and continue to be independent when they reach the age of 90.” Scores are adjusted by age with the ultimate goal to live independently in their own home throughout their lifespan.
Discharged patients who need to maintain their progress and work on overall fitness level are able to join the Livewell program, utilizing an attached wellness center.
Skilled Nursing Facilities
The wellness center attached to the skilled nursing facility where Regional Clinic Manager Jolene Denn, SLP works was designed specifically to help seniors achieve a healthier lifestyle. “Therapists here have had a unique opportunity to rehabilitate patients with the goal of maintaining treatment gains through membership to the wellness center,” says Jolene.
Therapists work to design aquatic or land-based exercise programs that maintain patient gains made in therapy and promote continued health and wellness. Prior to discharge, therapists work with patients on how to use equipment and what individual machines and exercises are recommended for their unique wellness needs. Upon discharge from therapy, patients are encouraged to join the wellness center where they can make use of the large exercise gym containing cardio, weight-training and HUR equipment, a mirrored exercise studio and therapeutic pool. Seniors can also participate in their new wellness programs and classes that include Tai Ji Quan, two-mile cardio walks and water aerobics.
Therapists working in outpatient rehabilitation guide patients through the recovery process for specific impairments; however, they also have the opportunity to coach patients on healthier lifestyles, fitness activities, wellness and disease prevention—in and out of the clinic.
“Many of my outpatient rehabilitation colleagues also work as athletic trainers, certified strength and conditioning specialists and yoga instructors,” says Outpatient Clinic Operations Manager Karey Fletcher, PT. “It is not unusual to see an outpatient therapist who teaches aquatic therapy at a senior independent living facility, or one who teaches Tai Chi for seniors at a local senior center.”
In the clinic, therapists can address issues such as fall prevention, smoking cessation, healthy nutrition, and weight management to facilitate progress toward patient goals. Plans of care typically involve the creation of a custom home exercise program that develops and advances throughout the patient’s episode of care. At discharge, the patient is able to use that individual home program to safely maintain strength, flexibility, balance, and conditioning in addition to preventing recurrence of symptoms or injury.
In these times of changing healthcare, all therapists play an important role in seniors achieving and maintaining health and wellness.
1. Roberta Rikli, PhD, C Jessie Jones PhD. Development and Validation of Criterion-Referenced Clinically Relevant Fitness Standards for Maintaining Physical Independence in Later Years. The Gerontologist Vol 53, No, 2 255-267.