Tribune Print Share Text

Going to rehabilitation for everyday problems

Created date

April 22nd, 2014
man with crutches
man with crutches

Advances in outpatient rehabilitation services and techniques have made it a must for returning to your best functioning after an acute event such as a stroke, joint replacement, or fracture repair. What many people don’t know, however, is that those same services, along with many others, have also been proven to be beneficial for people with chronic health problems.


Problems with balance can result in falls. Injuries from falls are considered a significant public health problem. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that among seniors, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries. 

If you feel a little unsteady on your feet, you can do something about it. First, see your doctor. Sometimes, medications can affect your sense of balance, and all you might need is an adjustment in your regimen. In addition, regular exercise has been shown to improve balance. That’s where rehab services come in. “A physical therapist can make you feel safer by helping you build up strength,” says Vrinda Suneja, M.D., medical director at Fox Run, an Erickson Living community in Novi, Mich. 

You might need to start using a walker or cane to stay active. “In that case, a therapist can show you how to properly use assistive devices,” Suneja says. If you already use one and your doctor thinks you don’t need it anymore, “physical therapists can show you how to get around without it if it’s possible to do,” says Joe Graham, P.T., director of rehabilitation operations at Erickson Living. “Our ultimate goal is to get people to their best level of functioning, whether or not that involves an assistive device.”

Learning as much as you can about preserving your balance before you have a fall might help you maintain your independence longer. Experts in the field can teach you. “Balance classes are available at the communities for people who have minor problems with balance or who want to keep their balance strong,” Graham says.

Acute or chronic pain

Pain after surgery or an injury is practically a given and physical therapy exercises can be quite uncomfortable at times. But while therapists take you through your exercises, they can also teach you how to manage pain, which might make it possible to decrease the amount of pain medication you take.

“Rehab professionals help people with many common sources of pain, including arthritis, muscle strains, sprains, and pain after a joint replacement,” Suneja says. “Depending on the type of pain you are having, you might work with a physical therapist or an occupational therapist.”

“Along with pain management, our therapists want to help you improve your daily functioning,” Graham says.

Beyond typical rehab

You can go to rehab for many age-related conditions. “Many people aren’t aware that speech and language pathologists teach strategies to cope with cognitive problems such as memory loss,” Graham says. “They help people learn to manage issues such as word-finding difficulties and recall. They know mental exercises that might delay the progression of memory loss for some people.”

People who are living with Parkinson’s disease can work with several types of therapists to address disease-related issues. “Balance and movement problems can be helped with physical therapy, and occupational therapists can teach ways to deal with daily activities such as getting dressed, bathing, or other household tasks,” Graham explains. “Sometimes, the loudness of your voice decreases with Parkinson’s disease. Speech therapists can help improve vocal projection and volume.”

A program that’s becoming more popular across Erickson Living communities is for people with incontinence. “There are some very simple strategies we can teach to help people decrease the likelihood of accidents,” Graham says. “This program is very successful—some people have been able to stop taking incontinence medication.”

Qualities of a good program

You can benefit greatly from a knowledgeable and experienced staff.  “Many outpatient rehab programs treat people of all ages,” Graham says. “Our staff works with one population—seniors.” 

“Our therapists know about the special challenges that go along with age-related conditions,” Suneja says. “They often accompany residents outside of the clinic to evaluate how they are functioning in everyday environments.”

“Residents receive one-on-one therapy with a skilled professional for their entire session,” Graham says. “The therapists are part of a multidisciplinary team of health care providers, so they can coordinate care seamlessly for residents.”

“Our rehab program works very well and people are pleased with it,” Graham adds. “Customer service surveys show that our outpatient rehab has a 99% satisfaction rate.”