Saturday, September 23, 2023

September 18-24 is National Rehabilitation Awareness Week

Injured man on crutches returning to previous health

The World Health Organization defines rehabilitation as “a set of interventions designed to optimize functioning and reduce disability in individuals with health conditions in interaction with their environment”.

Rehabilitation is a specialty field within medicine. Medical doctors who specialize in this field are known as PM&R (physical medicine and rehabilitation) doctors or physiatrists. They are part of an interdisciplinary team of therapists, case managers, social workers, psychologists and nurses. These specialists work with patients of all ages who have impairments or disabilities affecting the musculoskeletal (bone, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons) or nervous (brain, nerves, and spinal cord) systems. 

There are two main goals of rehabilitation medicine:

  1. Maximize function, independence and quality of life
  2. Prevent further decline of functioning

This medical specialty does not work to cure the patient.

Rehabilitation is very patient-centered and individualized. Patient needs that can be covered by rehabilitation medicine include:

  • Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) for self-care
  • Cognition, including concentration, memory, organization, problem-solving
  • Communication: speech, writing, and alternatives
  • Education and training of patient and family
  • Family support (e.g., about discharge planning, financial issues, lifestyle changes)
  • Mobility
  • Pain management
  • Psychological counseling for behavioral and emotional issues
  • Respiratory, including breathing treatments and ventilator care
  • Social skills
  • Vocational training

Rehabilitation is part of the universal health coverage that is key to achieving Sustainable Development Goal #3: “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” There are numerous benefits to including rehabilitation in the health care provided.

  • Rehabilitation can reduce the impact on the daily lives of persons who have diseases or injuries.
  • Rehabilitation not only aids in recovery, it can help manage, prevent, or reduce the complications from various conditions and interventions.
  • Rehabilitation can slow the progression of some conditions, such as cancer and diabetes, thus improving healthy aging.
  • Rehabilitation can help avoid hospitalization. reduce the length of hospital stays, and prevent hospital re-admission. 
  • Rehabilitation helps patients recover at home and return more quickly to their pre-existing lifestyles.

Some misconceptions about rehabilitation still exist.

  • Rehabilitation is not just for people with disabilities or physical impairments. It is an essential health service for people with any health condition or injury, whether temporary or chronic, that limits their functioning.
  • Rehabilitation should not be a luxury or boutique service, but should be available to anyone including those who can’t afford to pay for it.
  • Rehabilitation is not used only when other treatments fail to prevent or cure a health condition. It should be part of the first-line treatment options that are considered for each patient.

Worldwide, about 2.4 billion people could benefit from medical rehabilitation, but in some low- and middle-income countries more than half these people receive the rehabilitation services that would help them become more independent. This can be caused by emergencies such as disease outbreaks, military conflicts, natural disasters. These emergencies not only cause the need for rehabilitation, but also disrupt existing services.

Celebrate National Rehabilitation Awareness Week by becoming more aware of the benefits of this medical service. For more information, please click these links about physical medicine and rehabilitation from the following organizations:

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