Rehabilitative care is any type of medical, therapeutic, or mental and behavioral health care that helps an individual maintain, regain, or improve function and skills. The goals of this kind of care are to prevent further loss of function, to maintain independence, to improve function to any degree, or with some patients to regain complete independence.

Rehabilitation may include a wide range of care services including physical therapy, respiratory therapy, nutrition therapy, and psychotherapy just to mention a few. Patients who are disabled, suffered a stroke, had surgery or were injured, have a degenerative condition, have an illness that limits function, or struggle with mental illness or addiction can benefit from rehabilitation.

What is Rehabilitative Care?

Rehabilitation refers to any type of care that is used to improve a patient’s functioning and skills after an illness or injury, or in patients who are disabled. This type of care is also used to help patients regain function they once had, whether or not full-functioning is possible. And, rehabilitative care can be preventative, helping a patient keep or maintain function in the face of a disease or injury that is progressive and that deteriorates functioning.

The type of function or the skills that need to be improved, restored, or maintained, depends on the patient. These may include being able to walk, being able to move an arm, regaining or improving speech, and regaining cognitive and brain function. The degree to which function can be restored or maintained also depends on the individual. The goals or rehabilitative therapy may be to restore full independence or simply to improve on certain skills and functions to a smaller degree.

Who Needs Rehabilitative Care?

A wide variety of patients can benefit from rehabilitation, from young children born with disabilities to older adults after joint replacement surgery, and every type of patient in between. It is a kind of care that may be short-term for people who are expected to improve to a point at which therapy is no longer needed. But it may also be a long-term type of care for people with disabilities or degenerative conditions who need ongoing therapy to improve or maintain functioning. The following are some examples of patients who may need rehabilitative care:

  • Patients after a stroke who need to regain motor function, speech, or cognitive function
  • Children with motor, speech, or cognitive disabilities
  • Anyone who was injured in an accident and lost some degree of physical function
  • Patients who need to regain strength and function after a surgery
  • Patients with degenerative brain diseases, like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease
  • People with arthritis
  • Someone with a pulmonary disorder, who can benefit from respiratory rehabilitation
  • Anyone with chronic pain that needs to be managed
  • Patients with repetitive use injuries, like carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Patients with chronic illnesses that need to be managed, such as diabetes

Types of Rehabilitative Care

The specific types of care offered in rehabilitation vary depending on the needs, goals, and abilities and limitations of the patient. Some patients may need a combination of types of therapy and care for gaining function. And because needs may change over time, the type of care used can also change to continue to meet needs and help patients meet goals. Some of the most common types of care and professionals who provide that care for rehabilitation include:

  • Physical therapy. Physical therapists can help a wide range of patients who need to improve mobility, motor function, muscle balance and control, flexibility, and strength.
  • Occupational therapy. Occupational therapists help patients learn how to perform everyday tasks to improve independence. This can include everything from personal hygiene to skills needed to be able to get and keep a job.
  • Speech therapy. Patients with speech difficulties may work with a speech therapist to regain or at least improve the ability to speak and communicate.
  • Respiratory therapy. For patients with respiratory conditions who struggle to breathe, a specialized therapist provides treatment, equipment, exercises, and strategies to make breathing easier.
  • Pain therapy. A pain specialist works with patients who struggle with chronic pain to help them reduce pain and learn strategies for coping with it. This may include physical therapies, assistive, devices, and medications.
  • Neuropsychology. This kind of therapy is used to help patients who need to maintain or restore cognitive function. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, brain tumors, or dementia can benefit from this therapy that involves numerous strategies to improve cognition.

These are just a few examples of types of therapy and treatment used in rehabilitative care. There are also more specialized and alternative types of therapy patients may use, like water therapy, animal therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, and others.

Mental Health and Addiction Rehabilitation

Rehabilitative care often refers to physical rehabilitation, but it may also be used to describe certain types of mental health care, including addictive disorders. Rehab is a term often used to describe treatment for addiction, and this kind of care is most often used in a residential setting. Rehabilitative care for addiction usually includes therapy, group support, and sometimes medication, as well as alternative therapies.

Mental health rehabilitative care can be very similar to addiction rehabilitation, again often used administered in a residential facility and based on therapy and medical care. Goals of rehabilitative care for mental illness and addiction are to help patients learn to stop using substances, to cope with negative emotions, and to recognize and change negative patterns in emotions and behaviors so that they can live at home once rehabilitative care is complete.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehabilitation

Rehabilitative care may be offered on an outpatient or inpatient basis, depending on several factors. Patients who do not need to be hospitalized or stay in a residential facility can attend therapy sessions at medical or therapeutic centers or may have therapists come to the home. Some patients cannot live at home, often only temporarily and are either hospitalized or are living in a residential facility, such as a nursing home while they receive rehabilitative care.

Rehabilitation is an important type of health care because it helps patients regain or maintain function so that they can live more normal, independent, and fulfilling lives. Whether the care is short-term or ongoing, all patients need rehabilitative care that is provided by trained professionals and that is of the highest quality for the best outcomes. If you or a loved one needs rehabilitative care make sure that you check the credentials of all therapists and monitor sessions to ensure that quality is good. You can also get referrals for therapists and other professionals from your medical team or doctor to be sure that you are hiring the best and getting quality care.