Short Term Rehab for Debilitating Illness

There are so many circumstances that bring patients to rehab. In some cases, it’s a short-term fix for an injury or recovery from surgery to help patients literally get back on their feet. In other cases, patients with debilitating diseases–often chronic or degenerative– need ongoing professional treatment to help them maintain function and stay upbeat as they and their loved ones go through the challenging stages of an illness from which they probably won’t recover. But just because an illness is chronic or progressive doesn’t mean that all symptoms are untreatable and that patients should give up hope. High-quality rehab services can play a big role in helping patients with debilitating illnesses keep up with daily activities and the joys of independence for as long as possible.

We consider a debilitating illness to be a condition that prevents people from moving forward with their regular day to day activities. These conditions are usually incurable and often degenerative, meaning that symptoms get worse over time. When a loved one has a debilitating illness, the goal is almost always to extend quality of life for as long as possible, help them to feel comfortable and functional and keep them from becoming depressed. There are some excellent strategies for living with debilitating illness, and inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation is one of the best!

Some of the conditions we see most frequently include:
  • Arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lung conditions including COPD
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Neuromuscular diseases including Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease and ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease)

Patients with debilitating illnesses often become inactive, and muscles can get weak from inactivity. We want to keep patient strong and conditioned despite physical challenges, help patients continue going through daily activities independently and help them communicate effectively even as thinking and speaking clearly become more difficult. A professional rehab program made up of physical and occupational therapy, along with speech and cognitive therapy when needed, is an excellent way to maintain and boost quality of life.

For most patients with a debilitating illness, physical therapy usually puts an emphasis on walking and mobility, keeping patients moving even as it becomes more challenging. This can include gentle supervised exercises even in a seated or lying position, treadmill and stationary bicycle work and adapting to walking with canes and walkers. Evergreen’s supported ZeroG gait and balance system allows even patients with very limited mobility and low stamina to exercise safely. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, physical therapy can also include pelvic floor therapy for urinary or bladder issues associated with many degenerative neuromuscular conditions.

A big part of rehab for patients with debilitating illness involves improving and maintaining function to make daily activities doable and meaningful. Occupational therapy can be a big part of this. Occupational therapy can cover everything from adapting eating and personal care habits to staying safe in the home and using adaptive devices to get around. OT plays a key role in helping patients develop strategies for coping with their new normal and working around challenges to stay independent.

With many debilitating illnesses and in particular with neuromuscular conditions, cognitive changes related to learning and remembering information can occur. According to the National MS Foundation, patients can have issues with memory, attention, executive function (planning and prioritizing) and finding words. Cognitive therapy, with a focus on maintaining thinking and reasoning skills, can help. Therapists give patients tools to help them compensate for cognitive sides with techniques like repetition, rehearsal of speech, improving planning skills and setting reminders. Cognitive therapy can often be completed by occupational therapists and/or speech and language therapists.

Speech, language and swallowing therapy is another useful tool in treating patients with debilitating illnesses. In many cases with degenerative neuromuscular conditions, damage to the nervous system affects the muscles related to both speech and swallowing. Speech therapy helps patients develop techniques, both physical and mental, to help words come more easily, allowing them to communicate effectively and reduce frustration. Swallowing therapy can help patients learn to relax their muscles and adapt eating habits to make self-feeding possible as the condition progresses, keeping patients safe and independent.

Living with a debilitating illness–or caregiving for someone who has one–can be exhausting and frustrating. As patients lose mobility and function and become less able to care for themselves, a downward spiral of depression and physical weakness can set in. Professional rehab can go a long way toward helping patients stay active, engaged and independent even as their illness takes a toll. The progress and achievement that rehab brings into play allow patients to take small positive steps on a regular basis and help them hold onto that all important sense of self-worth.