August 4, 2022
3 mins

Finding Balance: a Choose-Your-Own Adventure Story

Mother and daughter enjoying each others company.

by Amy McDermott, EmpowerMe Wellness

CHAPTER ONE

Mr. Jones set his sights on winning the annual giant pumpkin competition at the state fair! He had hip replacement surgery in January and spent his recovery time planning his garden so he'd be ready to plant in the spring. 

With the daffodils in bloom, the sun shining, and the robins singing, Mr. Jones dusted off the wheelbarrow and grabbed his shovel! 

Unfortunately, after a few rocky attempts at digging and squatting, he was worried and exhausted. He had more trouble getting the wheelbarrow out of storage than he anticipated, he almost fell while tripping over the uneven walkway, and his back was aching.

Luckily, in a lightbulb moment, he remembered the therapist who helped him recover from his hip replacement surgery all those months ago. Mr. Jones knew precisely who he should call!

  • If you think Mr. Jones should call his physical therapist, jump to option #1.
  • If you think Mr. Jones should call his occupational therapist, jump to option #2.

Option #1:

Mr. Jones calls his physical therapist (PT) and describes the difficulties he’s having. They schedule a time to meet.

Together, Mr. Jones and his PT work to strengthen his hips and improve his range of motion. The PT teaches Mr. Jones exercises to target core strength and demonstrates how to use better body mechanics while squatting and bending, reducing the potential for injury.

They develop a home exercise program that includes stretching so Mr. Jones can warm up his muscles before working in the garden. They practice walking together on the uneven soil and through the garden rows, carefully avoiding any newly sprouted plants. The PT exercises have made Mr. Jones stronger, and his posture and confidence have improved, too.

It feels like something is missing, though. Mr. Jones is scared he might lose his balance while picking up the heavy old watering can. His knees hurt from kneeling on the hard ground, and the wheelbarrow is challenging to manage.

Option #2:

Mr. Jones calls his occupational therapist (OT) and describes his difficulties. They schedule a time to meet.

The OT encourages Mr. Jones to swap out his heavy watering can for a lighter weight model, then teaches him how to lift it — with bent knees instead of lifting from the waist. Mr. Jones learns how to use a kneeling pad, and the OT wisely recommends he keep a chair close for scheduled rest breaks in the shade. Mr. Jones practices getting in and out of the chair, and the OT uses tape to mark where his hands should go when sitting down (which reminds Mr. Jones that he shouldn’t try to sit down with a rake in his hand).

Mr. Jones practices reaching to pull weeds while keeping his balance. With his OT’s advice, he decides he should use a wagon instead of a wheelbarrow, which makes him feel much safer.

Mr. Jones feels like something is missing, though. His lower back and hips are sore. He's afraid to push himself after hip surgery, and he feels weak – he wonders if what he's feeling is normal. Mr. Jones is not confident walking through the garden on uneven terrain. 

CHAPTER TWO

Even though Mr. Jones is happy with the progress he's making with his therapist, he's still unable to spend as much time in the garden as he would like. With the fantasy of growing a prize-winning pumpkin starting to fade, he wonders if he’s out of options. That's when he remembers that after surgery, he had two therapists helping him recover, not just one! 

  • If you think Mr. Jones should call the other therapist, too, jump to option #1.
  • If you think Mr. Jones should throw in the towel and give up his life-long dream of growing a state fair ribbon-winning, record-setting pumpkin, then you’re out of options, but no one wants that for Mr. Jones!

Option #1:

After working with both his physical and occupational therapists, Mr. Jones is elated! They each helped him regain his balance and restore his confidence in different ways!

PT improved his posture through stretching and adaptations to enhance his spine and hip flexibility. Through lower body strengthening, Mr. Jones improved his postural awareness and stability. He got better at maneuvering around obstacles and on uneven surfaces. 

OT helped Mr. Jones avoid a fall with environmental modifications like the chair, wagon, and lightweight watering can. The OT also challenged his balance while multitasking and helped him realize the limitations of his endurance, which in turn helped him understand that rest breaks are a vital component to reducing fall risk.

Mr. Jones’ hard work paid off — he won a purple ribbon and broke the state fair record! He thanked both of his therapists in his acceptance speech and acknowledged that he couldn't have done it without them.

The Moral of the Story: 

Balance overlaps both physical and occupational therapies. Both disciplines should address balance using their unique expertise, vision, and skill. Calling in a physical therapist to help with seniors’ balance may seem more obvious at first glance, but occupational therapy's contribution to improving balance should not be overlooked.

Working together provides a more comprehensive view of performance – especially when the OT and PT each measure progress using different metrics and share their outcomes and observations. 

In most cases, seniors need both PT and OT to achieve their balance goals and live happily ever after!

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