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Understanding Rehabilitation Therapy
Adapted from 
"Enhancing Rehab After A Stroke: Families Can Help"

What is rehabilitation therapy?

After injury or disease strikes, a structured program of rehabilitation therapy can restore a part of the body or a person to normal or near-normal function. The goal of a rehabilitation program is to help someone become as independent as possible and to function despite a disability. 

Rehabilitation may focus either on multiple areas or be very specific. Physical rehabilitation activities and treatments may include:

  • Exercise
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Massage
  • Repetition and practice of daily activities; e.g., walking, climbing stairs

These rehab activities can help the individual regain co-ordination, endurance, flexibility, mobility, and strength.

Who needs it?

Some of the circumstances that call for rehabilitation therapy are:

  • Acquired brain injury, including stroke and head injury
  • Amputation
  • Bone fracture
  • Heart conditions
  • Joint replacement

Often, more than one type of rehabilitation therapy may be needed, meaning a team effort is called for.

Who delivers it?

Several professionals, trained in specific areas, may work together in the rehabilitation process. Their common goal is to help individuals to regain skills, learn new ones, and make the best use of remaining abilities.

Occupational Therapist (OT): The OT will focus on everyday tasks, such as dressing and preparing meals. An OT sometimes recommends changes to the environment (e.g., bathroom grab bars) that encourage safety and independence. 

Physiotherapist:  The "physio" teaches special exercises to help the individual improve balance, muscle control and strength, and to practice tasks such as walking and managing stairs.

Recreational Therapist:  This professional can help an individual to plan new hobbies and interests, or to learn new or different ways to resume old ones.

Speech-Language Therapist: This professional is trained in assessment of swallowing, and in assessing and treating speech and language problems. Some people regain the ability to speak within a few months. Early speech therapy can help the person make the most of the remaining language skills.

Psychologist, social worker, or family therapist:
These professionals specialize in assessing and treating emotional health issues. Counseling may assist the individual and the family to adapt to the changes that occur following the stroke.

Families play an important role in enhancing the work of professional teams. Particularly in the case of stroke, early rehabilitation can dramatically improve recovery. Understanding the recovery process and knowing how to support a stroke patient while in hospital, and after discharge, can make a huge difference.

Related Reading:

Geriatric specialists in hospital and in the community

Older women in intensive care

Members' Only Content: Who's Who On the Health Care Team:
Part 2 of 3 in our Members' Library Series: When Aging Parents Are Ill

Vol. 5, No. 10, � ElderWise Publishing 2009.
You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise Inc. We provide clear, concise and practical direction to Canadians with aging parents. Visit us at and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter.

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