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I’ve practiced medicine in the field of healthcare for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities for many years, and sadly, I had never heard of the term “Physical and Nutritional Supports.” Sure, we did some of these things in our clinical support of people with IDD, but we never had fully understood what I consider this “lost art.” It’s time to put an end to that way of thinking. In this newsletter, we’ll talk about Physical Supports, and in a later newsletter, we’ll delve into Nutritional Supports. Much of what you read in these articles was adapted from the writings of HRS founder Karen Green-McGowan, RN. I’m thankful for the opportunity to have learned this and so much more from her.

The Concept of Physical & Nutritional Supports

People with physical disabilities often have conditions like cerebral palsy, spasticity and contractures of their extremities. Often, they are prescribed physical therapy for range of motion. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s look at it this way. We’ll compare weight loss to physical therapy to illustrate the concept.

Physical therapy is often delivered in doses to a person who needs modification of life-style 24 hours a day.

Consider a person who is morbidly obese. Doses of therapy, such as a 300-calorie meal three times a week, will seldom impact the problem unless movement and intake are modified 24 hours a day. Many clinical services are delivered in doses, but most major issues, such as obesity or recovery from a stroke, require a major alteration in lifestyle

With that in mind, consider a person who has a physical disability. They go to see a physical therapist for three doses of physical therapy per week. They then return home and are placed in a chair for the rest of the day before being placed in bed. That physical therapy is wasted and will have little, if any, impact on the health of the person. Ninety minutes of stretching a week compared to the remaining 9,990 minutes in the week spent sitting or lying down with little active movement just won’t do it.

Physical therapy is often delivered in doses to a person who needs modification of life-style 24 hours a day. Babies born with hemiplegia, the most common form of cerebral palsy, want to use only their good side and leave the involved side dragging behind. When they are forced to use the involved side from the get-go, within a year or so, one can often not tell that the toddler had a disability at all.

This makes the case for 24-hour planning that utilizes many forms of supports to get the function of a healthy body. It is not only up to the therapist or clinician to manage the person’s health. It is up to each person who supports them to understand the forms of support this person requires and how they fit in. Techniques to support people 24/7 are relatively easy to learn and to implement by all staff including direct support professionals when guided properly by a physical and nutritional supports plan. Rather than focusing on doses of therapy, we should develop a therapeutic lifestyle. It just makes sense.

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