Jessie says there are several opportunities to improve residents’ function and safety with physiotherapy. Not every admission needs an assessment but there are some clear indicators for physiotherapy input. These include changes in mobility, a fall or increased risk of falling, a period of immobility following illness, the development of a pressure injury, or after a medical event such as a stroke, heart attack or flare-up of a chronic condition.
“Often referrals come in too late when staff are really struggling to assist someone. Ideally, staff should be alert for early changes such as difficulty standing up from a chair or doing something that was previously simple,” she says.
Physio can also help people recover from surgery and strokes. “One myth is that people who have had a stroke only have a small window of rehab. People whose stroke was more than six months ago can often show improvements with the right intensity of input. They also need to maintain their fitness or they will lose those rehab improvements so general fitness is just as important.”
Jessie says a lot of balance and strength losses are reversible. “People of any age, even if they’ve got physiological and health changes, can still improve strength and balance in most cases.”
Physiotherapy interventions can be complex (such as training in cueing strategies for people with Parkinson’s), or involve simple strengthening and balance exercises such as repeated ‘sit to stands’, calf raises, side stepping and backwards walking.
“Exercises that actually imitate what the person needs to do in everyday life are best,” Jessie says. “The ability to stand up from a chair or the toilet is vital to maintaining independence. And if you think about walking through a busy mall, that can be terrifying if your balance isn’t good and you don’t have that ability to step to one side or backwards out of someone’s way. That’s when you fall.”