The Benefits of Starting Rehab Early After A Hospital Stay

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When you’re in the hospital, your greatest driving force is recovery. You want to get back on your feet again and have life return to normal. For patients coming out of extensive surgeries or those battling serious medical conditions, recovery can often be overshadowed by long days spent in a hospital bed. Fortunately, physical and occupational therapists have found that starting services as soon as possible can lower your risk of what they call "functional decline" related to long hospital stays. Early rehab can improve your physical health and your ability to resume activities faster, as well as your outlook.

Jumpstarting Your Recovery

Early rehab programs focus on providing personalized physical therapy and occupational therapy services while a patient is in the intensive care unit (ICU). Don Frega, who manages rehabilitation services at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, says early rehab programs aim to get people started with therapy as early as 12-24 hours after they are medically stable.

“With any ICU stay, patients are at risk of becoming weak – which effects their independence,” says Frega. “If they need to rely on a ventilator, the risk of developing complications and having a longer recovery increases even more. Getting them involved in activities that get their feet on the floor earlier can speed up their recovery and decreases the risk of delirium or confusion.”

Early rehab programs can help:

  • Decrease time spent in the ICU or hospital
  • Reduce numbers of days spent on a ventilator
  • Maintain or reduce cost of stay
  • Minimize physical and mental decline

Personalized Care to Improve Your Outlook

Early rehab programs aren't designed just to speed up the recovery process but also help with its effectiveness for the individual patient. Your therapy sessions should be tailored to accommodate your physical capabilities as well as your personal interests and goals. Your therapists work with your family to learn more about your hobbies, favorite activities, and preferences for music, movies, games and reading materials. Based on the information provided, your therapists can incorporate these preferences into your rehab plan. That could mean creating a specific playlist for your daily sessions or providing your favorite magazines to keep you engaged between sessions.

The rehab team works closely with the medical team to make sure everyone is informed of your progress. A calendar is placed on the wall in your room to track your progress with therapy. This also allows you and your family to focus on positive things and set daily goals during your hospitalization.

“Patients get so much out of achieving their personal goals,” says Frega. “And the nurses, therapists and providers help to empower patients. They are there to cheer up, cheer on, motivate and comfort.”

Staying Positive

If a hospital doesn't offer an early rehab program, patients often don’t receive any physical or occupational therapy services until they are transferred out of the ICU. Unfortunately, by that time, many patients were used to the inactivity and time spent on bedrest – making it harder and take longer for them to get back to normal or to whatever the best version of their new normal may look like.

“Early rehab provides each patient with the highest quality and the safest care to help them overcome their unique situation and regain their strength,” says Frega. “But most importantly, countless patients have experienced hope and improved quality of life as a result of the personalized early rehab approach and the partnership between therapists, patients and their families.”


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Don Frega MS, OTRL, oversees regional physical and occupational therapies for Henry Ford Health System, which provides early rehab services to the entire medical ICU at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, as well as three other locations.

Categories: FeelWell

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