I had been working about 3 weeks as an in-house Outpatient provider of Physical Therapy in my new job at a beautiful Senior Living facility, when it finally hit me what the déjà vu feelings I was having were.
Every morning as I began my day in my office, I would hear a small group of women sitting in the exercise room gossiping before going to the dining room for breakfast. I watched as the seniors jockeyed for who to sit by and who not to sit by at their meals. I felt sad for those left out and irritated by the “bullies” who got their way forcefully, but happy to see genuine pleasant interactions as well. I watched long married couples help each other into their chairs, and new couples formed through shared interest, shyly holding hands or going for a walk together around the grounds. Activities of cards, crafts, music and outings made me want to join. The “athletes” participated in exercise classes and tried to find Tai Chi participants or someone to go hit a tennis ball with.
This was parallel to my experience of living in a dorm room at college. The roommates, the food/dining experience, the “fun get to know each other” activities, the romances, the gossip, and the who is in and who is out group living dynamics.
But these residents are 50-80 years older than I was then! How is it possible that the living experiences are so close in parallel?
It’s our common humanity. We all eat, sleep, have our personal special items in our living space, miss our loved ones, yearn for connection and need to be in communion or a need to be left alone. Age does not change that. Age just provides more life experience and hopefully wisdom to draw from.
How does my services of Physical Therapy fit into this scenario? Good health is a key to happiness and when a person suffers from health issues that limit their lifestyle, it impacts their well-being in all ways. Mobility is a huge factor in health. When a person is unable to walk to the dining room, they will get food, but they miss the social engagement and human connection of being served food and eating in communion with others.
How can I provide services to allow greater safety and independence in a client’s own home? Who wants to have to call and wait for help to just go to the bathroom? Not I. How can I assist them to get to their meals in the facility? How can I help them be engaged in their favorite activities? We know that active elders have lower fall risk. These are all important questions I ask the client and myself when I get the privilege of working with them.
I will even get to help with the safety of romances. “Don’t’ tell anyone, but when I tip my head back to kiss Bill, I get dizzy.” My Vestibular treatment corrects her dizziness, so she is safe, but also engaged in a romance that is important to her and benefits her well-being.
As providers, it’s easy to become distracted by our mandatory tests and documentation guidelines. I want to encourage us to remember why we do this. We are providing services to elders to augment their health and ultimately the quality of their lives. We have common human needs and we need to remember that those needs are what truly drives the services we provide.
Lynn Renner, PT, DPT – fellow human being.
Lynn Renner is the Infinity Rehab Outpatient Clinic Director for Prestige at Bridgewood. She graduated from the University of Washington in Physical Therapy in 1987 and earned her Doctor of Physical Therapy in 2013 from Utica College. Lynn has been a practicing Physical Therapist for over 30 years. She specializes in neurology, vestibular, and geriatric therapies but has holistic experience across the continuum of physical therapy care.
Lynn has worked for Infinity Rehab at Bridgewood as the Outpatient Clinic Director and Physical Therapist for over 3 years. She is passionate about advocating for her clients and providing innovative care solutions to help them live life to its fullest.