Rehab comes of age

May 31, 2007|by PEPPER BALLARD

An increasing number of people in their mid-50s to mid-60s are seeking physical therapy, which one therapist says is a sign of a more active and educated group of emerging senior citizens.

The influx of clients is taking place, in part, "because we're more active. We expect a higher quality of life, and part of it is education - how much people realize that (therapy) is something they can do to improve their health," said Lorraine O'Neill, owner of O'Neill Physical Therapy Services on Cleveland Avenue in Hagerstown.

Another factor, according to Robinwood Orthopaedic Specialists physical therapist assistant Theresa Morter, is the "deconditioning with our society."

Some clients she sees in that age range are "not strengthened. Their endurance and flexibility is decreased," Morter said.

O'Neill said many of her clients are senior citizens. Of those, O'Neill said, her baby boomer clients are "more active and healthier" than people in their mid-50s were a decade ago, but "we're increasingly seeing sports and activity-related injuries."


The risk of osteoporosis "dramatically increases" after the age of 55, and as a result, the risk for fractures also is higher, according to O'Neill, who completed her doctoral thesis on "Osteoporosis: Physical Therapy, Intervention and Management."

Flexibility and strength training - basic physical fitness principles - remain the treatment mainstay for Tri-State area physical therapists interviewed for this story.

Laura Blair, physical therapist at the Center for Joint Surgery and Sports Medicine at Robinwood Medical Center, said it's important for those at risk for osteoporosis to build muscle.

"More and more studies are finding that the more (muscle) that loads the bones prevents the bone loss," Blair said.

Torn rotator cuffs are one of the most common injuries some therapists said they see in their clients.

The number of ways to help physical problems with therapy have increased, however, said O'Neill. She offers physical therapy for incontinence, a therapy he said is 98 percent effective for patients in less than six visits.

Physical therapists also train people to exercise underdeveloped muscles that are stressing other parts of their bodies.

Although area physical therapists interviewed for this story said resistance bands and weights are the most common equipment used in sessions, some area therapists have expanded on the old methods.

O'Neill said she uses balance boards in therapy and then allows her clients to take them home to practice. She buys the boards at Toys "R" Us.

"I'm not a big fan of getting on the technology bandwagon because technology is expensive and I want them to do it at home," she said.

Kelley Rankin, owner of Rankin Physical Therapy and Fitness Center in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., found installing underwater treadmills in the pool at his new facility has helped patrons who have joint problems.

"As people age, their cartilage deteriorates so we put these underwater treadmills in and it reduces the stress on their neck and back," Rankin said. "They're also getting a great cardiovascular workout and the heated pool causes an increased blood flow for those who have poor circulation."

Rankin said he also offers senior judo, yoga and aquatics classes. Seniors basketball is held Friday nights.

At Blue Ridge Care and Rehabilitation Center in Charles Town, W.Va., a new program, "Think Bold, Not Old" incorporates fun activities with physical therapy.

Advanced Alzheimer's disease patients are taught ballroom dancing, which helps with cognitive function, said Cathleen Newberg, a Blue Ridge Care and Rehabilitation Center physical therapist.

Newberg said dancing helps trigger nostalgia and movement in the patients.

"It's a wonderful, happy way to work on balance and walking," she said.

Some patients do a kobayashi exercise, in which they pick up stuffed animals with their toes, she said.

On a recent afternoon, one such patient, Steve Gainey, did the kobayashi exercise with the help of a stuffed bunny to "wake up his feet," Newberg said.

Gainey, 50, suffered a stroke late last year and has had stiffness on the left side of his body since then.

"When he first starting working with the bunny, he couldn't do anything with the bunny," Newberg said. Gainey rolled his feet over a small stuffed bunny rabbit.

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