After an accident or illness, it is important seniors rebuild their strength, balance, and flexibility. To this end, doctors normally recommend they travel to an outpatient or skilled nursing center. However, many find that in-home physical therapy offers more benefits for seniors looking to regain their independence.
Clinical environments are not always ideal for people recovering from a painful accident. Outpatient facilities are often noisy, crowded, and overwhelming. Skilled nursing facilities do not give seniors control over their surroundings. Nurses decide when they eat, use the bathroom, exercise, and rest.
By contrast, recuperating at home puts patients at ease. Home is a healing space people are naturally drawn to when anxious and stressed. It is not only convenient but can be easily adjusted and contains comforting reminders from their past. If the patient is living with a spouse or family members, that improves the environment even further.
In the long run, happy patients have better outcomes. They are easier to motivate and more likely to follow their therapist’s advice.
These observations are backed by a study from 2012, which found healing environments were comfortable and allowed patients greater control. After analyzing the data, researchers concluded that people recovering in relaxed and pleasant spaces got well faster and suffered fewer complications.
There is no better place to assess a patient’s condition than their home. Observing how they function in their day-to-day environment helps therapists create care plans around individual needs. For example, if someone is having trouble getting out of bed, using the shower, or standing up from their easy chair, the therapist can create combined exercises that strengthen the joints and muscles for each movement.
Recovering at home also lets seniors address the unique challenges they face there, like a narrow staircase. Additionally, it is an opportunity to practice moving with their assistance devices, such as a wheelchair or walker, in the environment where they will be used. The advice they are given is clear, meaningful, and concrete, which makes exercises more relatable and likely to be remembered.
In-home care helps therapists bond with patients as well. When they are relaxed, people feel free to disclose about themselves and their interests. Moreover, therapists have a chance to get to know the patient’s spouse, children, and pets, which may offer further insight. Their surroundings also provide clues that therapists can use to their advantage.
For example, one of our therapists had a patient who had been a competitive ballroom dancer. Though he never mentioned it, she pieced it together from the dancing paraphernalia in his house. On subsequent visits, she shifted his care plan, creating activities based around dancing. These were not only fun; they helped him work on his strength and balance. Personal connections get results.
At the same time, observing the home lets therapists identify possible safety concerns. Clutter, lose carpets, and poor lighting are common hazards that cause seniors to trip and fall. Catching and eliminating dangers reduces the chance the patient will suffer another injury.
Treating patients at home gives therapists deeper insight into their health. Home therapists are often the first to spot when something is off. Sometimes, it is a problem not even the spouse or caregiver recognized.
For instance, a therapist might work with a patient who has a low activity tolerance, a normal symptom of aging. However, if the therapist notices the patient is feeling lightheaded, dizzy, fatigued, and clammy as well, they might recognize it as a symptom of low blood sugar. As a result, the therapist can recommend the patient change their diet or contact their doctor, who can help them better manage their insulin.
Patients are more motivated by concrete goals than abstract ones. For example, rather than working to increase ankle strength by one point, in-home therapists might focus on helping patients stand and walk to the kitchen. When patients can visualize progress, they are easier to motivate.
Furthermore, unlike a clinic, where therapists might oversee several patients at a time, in-home therapists work one-on-one. Such undivided attention leads to high-quality care.
Home care also simplifies training, which promotes long-term health. Therapy does not last indefinitely. Every patient must eventually develop their own program to keep progressing. Because clinics use complex equipment few people have access to, it is difficult for patients to repeat the exercises they learn. By contrast, in-home physical therapy works with patients using simple weights or ordinary items, like chairs, which makes it easy for patients to continue improving on their own.
Home therapy reduces the burden on seniors. Many live alone or are unable to drive. Therefore, to receive therapy, they must either rely on relatives and public transit, or have medical transportation arranged for them. In addition, they may have other doctor’s appointments as well.
On the other hand, in-home physical therapy is convenient and flexible. Instead of dealing with weather, logistics, and traffic, the therapist comes to them. It is also easy for in-home therapists to work around the patient’s schedule. They can call ahead to check-in and, if there is a conflict, set a new appointment.
For seniors recovering from an accident, injury, or surgery, in-home physical therapy offers the practical support they need to recover. By focusing on tasks they do at home, it delivers meaningful guidance towards independence.
Brooke McFerren is a Physical Therapist Assistant who works with older adults in Southern California. Through her personal approach to therapy, she has helped countless seniors remain strong, active, and independent during their advancing years.