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Why You Should Consider Physical Therapy Even During End of Life Care

Physical therapy plays a critical role in end of life care in Santa Clara and elsewhere. Many people assume that those in hospice are in their last six months of life; how can physical therapy possibly help? The answer has to do with comfort and quality of life. From symptom and comfort control to increasing remaining functional abilities, there is a great value in incorporating physical therapy, or PT, into the hospice care environment.

Physical therapy is performed by physical therapists, who are essentially movement experts with the role of leading exercise, hands-on care, and education for the patient, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. Not only do they teach patients how to manage their condition, but they also customize a plan to each individual to get the most out of their remaining quality of life. The goal is to help patients nearing the end of life maintain their sense of self, become as comfortable as possible, and maximize their remaining abilities.

What PTs do For Hospice Patients

As you may know, hospice care does not focus on recovery and cure, as palliative care does. Rather, the prognosis is under six months to live as specified by a doctor, whereby the focus turns to one of comfort.

So what exactly is the role of the physical therapist in hospice? Well, to start: it’s different than a PT’s role as a rehab team member in other settings. Physical therapists cater to the physical care of hospice patients, switching from a role of control to one that demands they do more active listening and problem-solving, says the NIH. So, thus, the role of educator plays a big part in the PT’s focus on hospice care.

Perhaps one of the bigger parts of being a PT in a hospice care setting involves stepping into the role of educator. They:

  • Show the patient how to move safely and comfortably.
  • Educate the family members of the patient so that some exercises can be done when the PT is not there.
  • Alleviate the burden on family caregivers.
  • Act as a counselor, building on a foundation of strong communication embracing the art of active listening.

Everyday activities and therapies for the hospice patient are also performed by physical therapists, who can:

  • Assist in pain control.
  • Use a variety of modalities ranging from heat to cold.
  • Teach activities of daily living (ADLs) that take into account the strength and mechanical capabilities of the patient.
  • Design exercises and positions that maintain functional yet comfortable ranges of motion.
  • Position patients to prevent pressure sores and contractures, as well as aid in breathing and digestion.
  • Provide endurance training as well as energy-conservation techniques.
  • Include exercises such as gait training, transfers, and stair climbing.
  • Provide therapeutic exercises.
  • Help the patient manage edema, brought on by excessive amounts of water in the body.
  • Recommend equipment, training, and home modifications.
  • Evaluate the person’s patient’s ability to move safely, then pinpoint difficulties to focus on making those work better for the patient.
  • Assist in walking and transferring, such as in and out of bed, on and off the toilet, or from wheelchair to bed.
  • Constantly re-assess the level of pain, providing therapies to reduce that pain such as through strengthening exercises.

Falls are a big health concern for hospice patients with cancer in particular. Studies show that 50 percent of patients diagnosed with advanced cancer will fall in the next six months of hospice. The impact of any kind of fall can reduce the functional quality of life, boost anxiety and lead to unnecessary pain and suffering. Physical therapy has been shown as an effective way to reduce falls among older adult hospice patients.

Restoring a Sense of Self

Chronic illness, palliative care, and finally hospice care can take a toll on a person’s sense of self. While the main job of a PT is to help with avoiding injury, removing safety hazards, and bringing pain relief to patients, they have a little-known other job — perhaps even more important — and that is to restore the patient’s sense of self, helping them cope at the end of life with dignity and self-respect. This aspect can make all the difference when it comes to quality of life. Plus, it can help cut down on how many social worker and nurse visits are needed, enhancing the quality of life of patients as they learn how to embrace a healthy lifestyle until their day comes.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

We are proud of our comprehensive caregiving teams, which include physical therapists on staff. Every patient is provided an interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals headed by a registered nurse (RN), with a variety of support staff members such as aides, social workers, physicians, pharmacists, and physical therapists. Contact us at 888-978-1306 to inquire further about our hospice services and how our experts improve the quality of life of your loved one.