Rehabilitation is the process of helping people — who have impaired physical, mental, and cognitive abilities due to disease or injury — regain the ability to carry out their daily activities, thereby improving their quality of life and independence as much as possible.
A team of healthcare providers can tailor a rehabilitation plan according to a person’s needs and disease condition. Depending on the treatment, rehabilitation can take place at a clinician’s office, in a hospital, in dedicated rehabilitation centers, or at home.
Rehabilitation strategies include recreation, assistive devices, counseling, physical and/or occupational therapy, speech therapy, and vocational counseling.
Rehabilitation and multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder of the central nervous system where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the protein covering that protects nerve fibers. This affects the manner in which the nerve impulses are conducted and can result in several symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, muscle stiffness, difficulty in voluntary motion, speech and vision problems, tremors, and depression.
Rehabilitation can help with these symptoms to a large extent by providing education and strategies to patients and their caregivers. It also has been shown to favorably enhance functional mobility, activities of daily living, and social and vocational participation.
The expertise of multiple teams can work with MS patients to address their needs and priorities, and the progression of their symptoms. Rehabilitation therapies for MS patients are summarized below.
Using physical exercises to restore movement and posture, physiotherapy can help decrease fatigue, improve strength, lessen muscle spasticity, and prevent injury. Assistive devices such as wheelchairs and crutches can also be used to ensure patient safety.
Occupational therapy helps patients be more independent by teaching them ways to carry out daily activities at home and work. Therapists can recommend changes to the home or work environment to make it safer, more convenient, and accessible for patients. They can also educate and counsel caregivers and colleagues about the importance of creating an accommodating atmosphere.
Cognitive rehabilitation seeks to improve thinking, reasoning, memory, and concentration skills that might be affected in certain progressive types of MS. A combination of restorative and compensatory activities can help to improve cognitive function in these patients.
Vocational rehabilitation programs can help MS patients retain their jobs by making adjustments to the way they work and interact with colleagues. Job training and placement assistance are also offered to patients seeking new jobs based on their current fitness and cognitive abilities.
Speech and swallowing therapy
Some individuals with MS have difficulties in speaking or swallowing, depending on the extent of nerve damage. A speech therapist can help by assessing the functioning of parts of the mouth, such as the lips, throat, tongue, and larynx, and recommend ways to reduce pain. Recommendations often include moving a patient’s head or body position, controlled swallowing, or diet changes to increase clarity of speech, and to minimize pain or discomfort.
Counseling is an important part of MS rehabilitation and provides a safe, non-judgmental environment for the patient and caregivers to discuss the disease and plan for uncertainties at home or work. Counselors can provide emotional support, discuss the importance of assistance from family, friends, and co-workers, and outline a strategy to help patients cope with the disease.
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