For over 100 years, physical therapists have specialized in human movement using skilled interventions to maximize health and function. During periods of critical illness, such as moderate to severe cases of COVID-19, it is common for patients to experience a loss of physical function which can lead to the development of new impairments or worsening of existing ones.
Long-term recovery from COVID-19 may be complicated by lasting effects due to deconditioning, restrictive lung disease, post intensive care syndrome, or neurological disorders. After 10 days of bed rest healthy older adults may lose up to 2.2 pounds of muscle mass from the legs with 2-5%/day loss of muscle strength. Recovery of physical function may take an extended period of time with impairments that may persist up to 2 years post infection.
As practitioners of movement, physical therapists are essential in early mobility during and following a critical illness in order to minimize the effects of immobility. Through skilled interventions such as functional mobility, balance training, endurance activities, posture training, and strengthening, physical therapists are equipped to help residents achieve their optimal level of function as quickly and effectively as possible.
Along with debility, residents in nursing homes that remain quarantined during the public health emergency face another silent threat: social isolation. Even with the recent relaxation of nursing home visitor guidelines, the effects of social isolation may be long lasting.
Restricted access to family and friends may affect even those who have not contracted the virus itself and may include severe fatigue, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and cognitive dysfunction.
The effects of patients remaining in their room, the cessation of communal dining, and restricted access to common areas (i.e. the therapy gym and equipment) pose significant barriers not only to successful intervention and outcomes, but also overall resident well-being. The interdisciplinary team should assess and re-assess situations, analyze tasks, make changes, and consider a holistic plan of care to help reduce the lasting effects of social isolation and provide person-centered, specialized care which emulates Reliant’s motto of Care Matters.