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Many seniors have been inactive for several weeks now due to the physical distancing measures that have been implemented to protect them from the COVID-19 virus.

Seniors who are living in retirement homes and long term care facilities have been the hardest hit because their families are not allowed to visit them in person. Addition, in facilities that are short-staffed, many seniors find themselves stuck in their rooms with little to no physical activity at all.

This is very serious because studies show that inactivity can lead to loss of muscle mass and strength. Consequently, these losses can lead to poor balance and cause falls among seniors. According to one study, "active older people who become sedentary for a couple weeks lose about 25 percent of their strength." This loss on muscle mass and strength tends to impact the overall health of seniors if not addressed immediately.

The good news is that muscle loss can be reversed! It can be reversed by physical activity.

More and more research studies show that physical activity can "promote mitochondrial health, increase protein turnover, and restore levels of signaling molecules involved in muscle function." In the article by The Scientist, it is described that exercise can increase the number of satellite cells (cells which are able to repair muscle) which is why "exercise prior to hip and knee surgery can speed up recovery in the elderly."

Physiotherapists and kinesiologists can help seniors maintain a regular routine of physical activity. After an assessment of the senior's condition and level of mobility, they can prescribe exercises that would help in strengthening the muscles and in improving balance.

In-person or virtual sessions can make a difference in the lives of seniors during this pandemic. In our experience with seniors, we have seen firsthand how our senior clients were impacted by inactivity for a couple of months. We learned that some of them had falls while others felt much weaker than before they were in isolation.

We are happy that with the gradual ease in restrictions, we are able to visit them and help them regain their strength and balance through regular exercise. We have seen that most of them are so excited to go back to physical activity because they feel much better when they see that they are regaining their strength, balance, and independence.

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Caring for seniors under the new normal requires us to follow new safety protocols

A few months ago, who would have thought that seeing our clients would involve wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE). We mostly see people donning the PPE in laboratories or in caring for highly contagious patients. However, the new normal in caring for seniors necessitates this drastic measure.

This global pandemic has really changed the way we do our job. While we have always put our clients' safety as our number one priority, we gained a deeper understanding of what it really means. Putting our senior clients first would mean sacrificing our own convenience and devoting our time to learning more about how to better serve them safely.

So, what is the new normal in caring for seniors?

For us who are seeing seniors in retirement homes and long-term care facilities, we abide by their safety rules and regulations. Our therapists wear a mask and face shield before entering the homes, change gowns between patients when required, and use gloves when appropriate. Of course, there is the conscientious washing of hands before and after seeing a patient. To prevent cross-contamination, we also try to limit one therapist per facility.

We have to be thorough in asking the necessary questions to our clients before seeing them, such as if they show symptoms of cough, cold or flu or if they have been exposed to someone who is showing those symptoms. This is one crucial task that we take seriously. We also have to be mindful of our own symptoms. If the therapist feels unwell, he or she postpones seeing the patients until he or she is tested for COVID-19, follows quarantine guidelines and is medically cleared to resume work. We never want to take chances.

This global pandemic has certainly taught us how much we are willing to sacrifice for our seniors. Our team has seen heroes in the retirement homes and care facilities we visit -- the nurses, care aides, cooks, and other staff. We admire them for being creative and willing to go the extra mile to keep our seniors active, healthy and happy.

We are inspired, more than ever, to continue finding ways to help our seniors in making their lives worth living in this unprecedented time.

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The new COVID-19 virus has heavily impacted the senior population around the world. Sadly, thousands of seniors have died in Canada and most of them were residents in care homes across the country. Consequently, many essential services such as physiotherapy were stopped to prevent further outbreaks in these places.

Seniors, more than anybody else, need help staying active so that they can maintain their health and independence. Loss of mobility in seniors leads to a number of problems. For instance, it puts them at greater risk of falling, which can lead to hip fracture. In Canada, it is estimated that 1 out of 3 seniors aged 65 years and older is at risk of falling. Falls are also one of the leading causes of injury-related hospitalizations in the country.

Nevertheless, this global pandemic has caused physiotherapy to gradually adapt to a "new normal." To continue providing services to seniors without the risk of infecting them with the virus, many physiotherapists now use virtual therapy. With this option, the therapist does not need to be with the patient in person.

So, how effective is virtual therapy for seniors? It may still be too early to tell. However, therapists have been using this technology for years now. Having a means of connecting with the seniors and motivating them to keep active is better than nothing. After all, seniors need this connection not only for their physical well-being but also for their mental health especially while in isolation.

What we have seen in our own experience with virtual therapy is that seniors can adapt amazingly quick with the new technology. We have also received positive feedback from our clients saying that they missed our sessions and that they are glad we could resume working with them, even if it meant virtually.

Virtual therapy is now emerging as the new normal for physiotherapists, kinesiologists, and other health care professionals. We may see this becoming a permanent option particularly for seniors in care facilities where there are flu outbreaks every year. During those times, they will no longer be missing out on physiotherapy or kinesiology sessions because their therapists are just a click away.

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