Physicians Need to Refer Their Patients to NCHPAD
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
Painful joints, fear of falling, and difficulty ambulating, are common reasons why many older adults with disabilities rarely leave their home. Having lived most of her life in this fast-paced, never-sleep city, my mother was approaching a critical turning point: tolerate the pain and continue to work, or quit the one thing that she looked forward to - working with children and being around people. I decided that it was time to do something about it and made an appointment with a rheumatologist at a time when I would be available to drive my mother to the doctor while attending a conference in New York City. During a brief consult that I was privileged to sit in on, the rheumatologist told my mother that she needed to start taking pain medication and attend physical therapy two days a week for six or seven sessions. The doctor also mentioned that my mother needed to continue exercising to avoid other health problems. These recommendations were nothing out of the ordinary, and I'm sure millions of other people with arthritis have heard similar recommendations from their own doctor.
Unfortunately, what was lacking in the doctor's comments was the substance to make it happen. Advising an 80-year old woman that she should "continue exercising" will do little good if there is no support mechanism in place. What my mother needed to hear was how and where to exercise. Examples could have included joining a chair aerobics or Tai chi class at her local senior center, finding a warm water pool in her neighborhood (most YMCAs offer warm water exercise classes for seniors with arthritis), or purchasing a stationary bike and some elastic tubing to strengthen her leg muscles in her own home.
Had the doctor known about the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability, she could have downloaded a NCHPAD fact sheet on exercises for arthritis and then searched the NCHPAD database for exercise programs in my mother's neighborhood that offer classes for seniors or people with arthritis. My mother is an outgoing person who would benefit greatly from a community exercise program, where she could interact with others, make new friends, and enjoy performing a variety of new and enjoyable physical activities.
Professionals in medicine and rehabilitation must begin connecting their patients to community exercise programs. No matter how small the community, there is usually some type of exercise program offered within a few miles of the person's home. NCPAD's growing database on accessible programs would be very helpful to doctor's needing to make referrals to patients in need of exercise.
In a few days my mother will see a physical therapist who will prescribe some home exercises that she'll try a few times before she becomes bored and stops. This is precisely where NCHPAD could reach its greatest potential, picking up where therapist and doctor leave off. NCHPAD is only beginning its fourth year of operation, and the vision for this exciting Center is to bridge the medical community with the growing world of exercise and fitness. Doctors and rehabilitation specialists must begin to use some of the precious minutes they spend with their patients connecting them to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability. They won't be disappointed.