HELPING patients with life-limiting illnesses to remain as healthy, mobile and independent as possible for as long as possible is the Prospect Hospice therapy team’s overarching mission.
While the word hospice still too often evokes thoughts of death and pain, the charity is a haven for people struggling with the side-effects of cancer medication or of a terminal illness, such as breathlessness, which they can tackle through physiotherapy, for instance.
“We are here to teach them to do things slightly differently to enable them to be as independent as possible,” said Anne Macmillan, therapy services team leader.
“We are a responsive team so we see people in the in-patient unit or people that come in for symptom management like breathlessness, pain and fatigue. We also do access visits in their homes.
“If they find it hard to walk upstairs we can help them with that. We have a small gym and we can help them work on exercise plans.
“And it may just be about doing things at a slower pace. It’s about building up their strength and stamina and teaching them strategies to keep as active and independent as possible, and to keep their dignity.
“We can work on the pain by relieving tense muscles.The goal is to keep their limbs moving fully and prevent them from getting stiff. if somebody is in bed longer it makes them feel weaker.
“It can help them control breathlessness and so maximises the amount of time they can do things. We want to help them work on their goals. And for some people it can be up to the last few days of their lives.”
Part of the physiotherapists’ role is also to focus on relaxation and help patients cope with anxiety.
The therapy services team has three occupational therapists, two physiotherapists, a nurse and a multi-disciplinary team assistant.
Physiotherapy not only helps patients to stay as comfortable and pain-free as possible under the circumstances but in some cases it can improve frail patients’ condition and allow them to regain strength.
Andy Tidey, 63, never imagined he would be able to lift himself out of bed into his wheelchair after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer, in January 2013. The condition meant that cancer cells grew near to the spine, pressing on the spinal cord and nerves, soon confining him to a wheelchair.
“I didn’t think I would be able to do anything anymore, “ said Andy, of Toothill.
“They would hoist me in my chair from my bed and the first day home after about 10 minutes I was tired I wanted to get back into bed. I spent the first few weeks waiting for the carer to come in and put me back in bed.
“I had no strength. I couldn’t cope.”
Through regular physiotherapy and a series of daily exercises to build up his strength and stamina, Andy’s life recovered a semblance of normality.
“I am able to move my legs. Initially I couldn’t move. I have improved my arm strength. My goal was to be able to get out of my chair into my wheelchair on my own and get from my bed into my chair. I had other goals I didn’t think would be possible like getting into my car, in the passenger side, on my own. I still need a hoist; it helps when I am tired.
“Everything has happened at quite a fast pace and it’s very positive. I do exercises in the morning and through the day to lift my legs up as high as I can.
“I know it’s something I have to live with and I’ve got to make the best I can out of it.
“It seems to be getting better and better as the work goes on.
“You don’t realise how much Prospect does until you need it.”
His physiotehrapist, Dorinda Moffatt, worked closely with OTS to provide equipment at Andy’s home and the best therapy at home and at the hospice.
“Because of the spinal compression, standing was not possible for Andy so when we first met him in the in-patient unit in September 2013, we tried to simulate a standing position, using chairs to get his muscles working.
“Now he can. People don’t know they can come to Prospect to rehab and a lot of people do.
“He has really come a long way. It has improved his arm strength.
“The goal was minimising the need for carers and to help him with his independence. He has done so well.”