Category Archives: Disability

Balance research in nursing home populations

I’m preparing my last inservice for the semester.  Most of my inservices and research are directed toward rehab or outpatient clients, but I found an article on functional balance training for nursing home residents while searching for an article on balance.  At ExPAAC a presenter (Barbara Resnick I believe) gave a talk in which she had a graph of how a person’s functional life goes when they go to assisted living or a nursing home – they start out at a certain level, have some sort of event (fall, hospitalization due to medical reasons, etc), they have rehab where we get them better but not to PLOF (for any number of reasons), they do fine for a bit, then another event, and the cycle continues.

(hope this shows up – my interpretation with time on x axis, function or QoL on y axis)

What if we could help reduce the number of bumps and the decline?  This is what piqued my curiosity in this paper.  Research in this population isn’t sexy – I can’t remember seeing an article about nursing home research in the media.  It is a niche population currently, but as Boomers age I would expect it might come to the fore of our minds (first keep them out of nursing homes, then how to maximize independence in one; as a tangent, there is a great article about transitioning between levels of care entitled “But I am not moving”: residents perspectives on transitions within a continuing care retirement community, in The Gerontologist 2009; 49:418-427, by Tetyana Pylypiv Shippee).

Falls in nursing homes are a serious problem.  The stats may be a bit old (I suspect there are more recent references they could use), but the CDC reports that 1/2 – 3/4 of nursing home residents fall a year (2x the rate in the community), with the average being 2.6 falls per person per year!  Of those falls, 10-20% result in serious injuries, 2-6% result in fractures, but even worse is an increase in disability, functional decline, QoL, and fear of falling.  Falls are multi-factorial (strength and balance and gait, environmental hazards, meds, etc), but PT’s can play a major part in addressing the problem.

The article I am presenting is “Rugelj D.  The effect of functional balance training in frail nursing home residents.  Arch Geron Ger.  2010; 50:192-197.”  The author’s purpose was to “design and evaluate the set of exercises that would specifically target functional balance and would challenge most of the aspects of the balance performance: reaching borders of stability, balancing on compliant surface, stabilizing during head movements, and dual attention.”

The study participants were frail but independently mobile with no known neuro, cardo, or msk condition that would interfere with mobility.  From 2 nursing homes (358 residents), 145 qualified and 59 agreed.  39 residents in the first home were randomly allocated to the experimental group (20) and the control (19), and in the second home all went to the experimental group.  The author chose the following outcome measures: mCTSIB, Four-square step test (FSST), 10m walk test, the Berg, and the Barthel Index.

The training protocol was 5x/wk for 12 weeks, starting with 6 reps/ activity, increased to 10 in the 5th week and 15 in the 7th week.  There were 14 activities at different stations which demanded balance, incorporating part of what would be in the residents’ daily routine in their functional tasks.  Initially it took the participants 55 minutes, but by the end of the 12 weeks they were able to complete more reps in less time (45 minutes).  The tasks were in 5 groups: rotation of head and body around vertical axis (4), shift of center of gravity to the border of stability (3), walking over obstacles or on a narrow line (3), relating to a soft supporting surface (3), and stair climbing.

The experimental group improved mCTSIB times on foam, improved times on FSST (>5 seconds), improved 10m walk test times (~3 seconds), and improved BBS by avg of 7 (54% >4, 36% >8), but had no change on the Barthel Index.  The control group had no improvements, and between groups all outcome measures except the Barthel Index were significant.

The author concluded that targeted balance training using activities from a person’s daily life appear to be an effective way of improving balance function.  There are several limitations to the paper: frailty was not defined; allocation between groups were convoluted and there was no intent to treat analysis (7 dropped out of the exercise group in the first two weeks, which caused the age to become significantly different between the two groups, so they excluded the oldest two to make it insignificant).  Additionally the author uses a clinically significant change value of 4 for the Berg, however the paper cited is community-dwelling veterans.  I have not encountered a clinically significant change score for nursing home populations (if someone knows what it is, please pass on the citation).

For me and my coworkers, we should obviously test to see where the patient’s deficits are and work on them, but then set up an appropriate and robust functional maintenance or restorative nursing program that incorporates this idea of multiple aspects of functional balance training.  Any nursing home should look and see what they are doing for their residents – is it enough, or do you need to do more for the safety and quality of life of your residents?  Further research is needed to determine the dose (reps and frequency), and which exercises should be done or areas addressed (are all 14 necessary?).

Spinomed orthosis in new study

I will pull the study later (I have to read a few papers about hip fractures tonight), but this looks interesting.  Apparently in a randomized trial,two spinomed braces improved trunk strength and therefor posture, and they improved quality of life (reduced pain, improved ADL’s).

Assessment of pain in older people

Pain Relief.

I was looking for a pain record assessment for creating a form and came across the British National Guidelines for assessing pain in older adults. I found it interesting and informative, and thought I would post it so others can look and see how they might be able to improve the assessment of pain in their older adult patient.

Addendum: here is a great webpage on pain assessment tools, covering a lot of different patients (peds to non-communicative older adults) and situations (the DASH, NPDI, etc) .

Picture credit: Pain Relief., originally uploaded by vvvracer

advances in prosthetic fingers

MSI Chicago Science of Star Wars exhibit - Luke's prosthetic hand

Not exactly standard geriatrics (I think I’ve worked with or seen three older adults with prostheses – two AKA and one BKA) but you never know when you might see a patient with something different, like this; the picture to the left is Luke Skywalker’s hand at MSI Chicago). We who have all our parts in working order take a lot for granted, so it is good to see that researchers have developed something to better mimic the human hand than the older generation of prostheses – unfortunately it looks to be pretty pricey at this point.

Photo credit: MSI Chicago Science of Star Wars exhibit – Luke’s prosthetic hand, originally uploaded by boliyou

Advances in prosthetic arms


I finally had the opportunity to catch up on NPA ThinkTank, and enjoyed the post and video about the advancement in biotechnology and prosthetic arms. Interesting and encouraging news for wounded vets and anyone else who has lost a limb.

Picture credit: NCP13268, originally uploaded by otisarchives3.

What if Jackson Pollock was your patient?

Jackson Pollack Studio Floor

Jackson Pollack Studio Floor,
originally uploaded by bitshaker.

If Jackson Pollock came in with shoulder and neck pain which were affecting his ability to paint, could you treat him? Of course – his body and biomechanics would be the same as anyone else. So why present him as a hypothetical patient?  He reportedly dealt with clinical despression and substance abuse.  What would you do differently with him? My case study for graduation (which I hope to have published) is on a patient with neck and shoulder pain who also has severe mental illness and struggles with substance abuse (this is known in the literature as dual diagnosis, or co-occurring disorder). While I present the treatment and result, I also address adherence and what I did to try and improve it.

Adherence is low already in the SMI population – add on substance abuse and there is a whole additional realm of interpersonal interaction and issues with adherence (there are not a lot of studies in general that are specific to this population, and none relating to PT). If I don’t get it published, I will publish some or all of it on the blog – stay tuned. Now I need to get back to writing it.