The Role of Family in Rehabilitation

The Role of Family in Rehabilitation – Kristin B.  PT, DPT

Earlier this week, I heard a therapist entering an evaluation saying that they hoped there was no family in the room. I’ve heard this before and, in fact, have probably said it myself. The therapist probably didn’t mean it, but they were probably rushed and know what any evaluating therapist knows—evaluations and treatments take longer when there is family in the room. This is because in a time of stress, as many trips to a rehabilitation facility are, we worry about our family members. We want to know what is going on and what to expect next. We also want to know that the people who are taking care of our family members can be trusted.

I understand this fully because I have been that family member. My dad had a severe stroke two years ago, just after I finished PT school. During the entire course of his hospital stay and rehabilitation my mom and I were there everyday. We were constantly asking questions and trying to advocate for him and I will tell you one thing that struck me. We were constantly ignored and treated as an inconvenience.

I take that experience into every evaluation or treatment that I do and remind myself how important family members are to the recovery of a patient. I also remind myself that they are my customer too and they deserve to be treated as such. Additionally, families can be a great asset to your treatment plan. Here are a few good ways to get family involved in the treatment of patients:

1. Teach them a Home Exercise program to complete with the patient. I work in sub-acute rehab and all of my patients stay on-site, but I still give every patient a handout of exercises to work on in their “free-time.” Having family members remind and encourage their loved ones to participate increases the likelihood that these programs will be completed.

2. Train the family to transfer or walk with a patient (if this is allowed in your facility). Often this can lead to opportunities for more physical activity for the patient and can make something as simple as going to the bathroom less stressful for the patient, family and staff. If there is a family member present who is properly trained to assist the patient, “call light” wait time can be reduced.

3. Teach the family about the patient’s condition so they can be better advocates for the patient’s recovery. A lot of the terminology and procedures that are common to a physician or a therapist can be scary and confusing for a patient or their family member and taking away the mystery will make everyone more at ease.