Getting Involved: An Introduction to Rehabilitation
for the Primary Caregiver

 by: Christian Andaya RPT 

What should a caregiver expect when their loved one is facing a long regimen of rehabilitation?  The whole process can be a mystery and often it is unclear as to what role the caregiver should play in the process. The more progress your loved one makes in rehab, the better you both will feel. The process of rehabilitation is not an easy one but with your help and support, your loved one will gain back the most capability possible.

 How do you get the most out of your love oneís rehabilitation? Itís just a matter of getting INVOLVED. Make sure you read about your loved oneís condition and educate yourself so you can ask the right questions. Try to understand what your loved one is going through medically. Be familiar with of your loved oneís insurance benefits. For example, the ďlength of stayĒ in a facility should be discussed with the staff.  If your loved one dislikes hospital food ask dietary staff if you could bring the patientís favorite foods. In rehab, itís the doctor that orders and discharges the therapy or nursing services.  Be aware that nurse practitioners, chiropractors and physician assistants can also give some orders.  Getting involved may mean a lot of different things depending on your particular situation but there are certain basic guidelines you should try to follow.

Usually there is patient conference scheduled that family members can attend.  Make sure you can be there.  If one is not scheduled, ask that one be arranged. At the conference you will be informed about your loved oneís overall medical, physical, emotional and psychological status. The goals for the patient are established and the expectations of the patient, family, medical professionals, including case managers, are also discussed. 

When therapy has started, you should frequently discuss the progress that your loved one is making with the physical therapist, occupational therapist, in house doctor and nurses.  Ask any questions that you have and make certain your perception of how your loved one is doing is the similar to theirs. Ask permission to and read the medical charts. Do not be intimidated by the medical setting or your lack of a medical education.  Go over every page and ask about anything you donít understand. Remember that everything is written in the medical charts including changes in medication. The patient has the right to go over her/his chart as does the primary caregiver with proper authorization.  You can ask the case manager for details.

 Attend every activity including physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy appointments. Talk with each of the different therapists about your loved oneís routine. Family members with appropriate training can learn and easily do some of the exercises. Ask if you could help do the exercises with your loved in their free time. You should also encourage your loved one to attend every scheduled activity.  Rehabilitation is never easy and your loved one will need your support to get the most out of it.  It also helps the patient battle depression. A great deal of success is dependent upon the patientís willingness to get better, but always keep in mind that your loved one has the right to have a bad day or even refuse entirely.

 When your loved one has shown sufficient progress to think about going home, you should inquire about the discharge date and get yourself involved with the planning in plenty of time. Ask about the necessary equipment that Medicare or insurances can purchase. If the equipment cannot be purchased through insurance, go to the nearest second hand shop or look in the classified section of your local paper. I have seen brand new walkers, bedside commodes, canes and wheelchair for sale in a fraction of the new price.  If you do find second hand equipment, make sure you have it checked with the PT, OT, and NSG staff.  Medical equipment shops also can offer second hand equipment, as do some charitable institutions. 

 As the primary caregiver, you are an important member of a team working together to improve your loved ones health.  Your understanding and participation is just as important as the medical professionals who are working very hard to help your loved oneís physical and mental outlook.  Work with us and ask questions and we will all see the best results.

Christian Andaya RPT is a professional caregiver and physical therapist. He has worked in outpatient services, rehabilitation hospitals, nursing homes, and home health agencies.  He currently employed as physical therapist in the South Florida area. 


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