Physical therapy for seniors? It’s like magic. Meet Erica Leiva.March 11, 2021
After he had a bad fall last October, Morty was in pretty tough shape. And, at the venerable but advanced age of 101, he wasn’t supposed to get back to the pretty good shape he’d been in.
But Morty’s story has a happy ending. Today, this popular resident of a senior living community in Florida has fully recovered from that fall. Not only that, but Morty has also tossed aside his walker and, as he likes to put it, “fired” his two physical therapy (home health) aides. A man old enough to have seen Harry Houdini perform live is back to his old tricks.
“That’s what I love about what I do,” says Erica Leiva, a rehabilitation director for Ageility, a national network of outpatient rehabilitation clinics and fitness studios. A physical therapist herself, Erica worked with Morty, and she found his perseverance inspiring. “The residents we serve are so motivated to stay active,” she says. “They motivate me, too.”
Seeing older people as special
A native of Queens, New York, Erica grew up wanting to be a doctor. She recalls enjoying the company of older people when, as a girl, she visited neighborhood nursing homes. But when she entered a premed program in college, her plan was to become a pediatrician and care for young people. Then something changed.
“When I started studying sports injuries and sports medicine, I got hooked on physical therapy, the whole act of recovery” Erica says. After considering pediatric physical therapy, “I decided to go into geriatrics instead. I turned completely around,” she laughs.
She loves older people, Erica says by way of explanation. “They have wisdom. They’ve lived long lives, and they know who they are. Some may feel old because of physical pain, but whether they do or whether they feel fit, they still want to dance, they still feel young in their souls.”
The “magic” of outpatient therapy for seniors
People who have lived long and want to continue living fully have unique needs, and those needs can be uniquely met in an outpatient setting, Erica explains. That outpatient setting is a key to the Ageility approach.
“Ageility really understands the importance of outpatient therapy in our residents’ lives,” Erica says. “To me, outpatient therapy is the future of rehabilitation medicine. That’s where all the fine-tuning and the magic happens.”
Inpatient physical therapy is critical, Erica notes, but it is only part of the picture—the recovery piece. Residents of today’s senior living communities want much more—going beyond recovering from any injury or illness to continue discovering all their lives have to offer. Ageility meets that need.
“Many of us trained in geriatrics were told that older people couldn’t improve, that the goal was just to maintain them,” Erica explains. “Ageility helped me see—and brought out in me that hope—that a senior can improve at any age. Even 101! They want that and they should have it, and we’re committed to working with our residents to make it happen.”
The state of the art of therapy
Ageility offers a wide variety of programs across the full range of rehabilitative services, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech language pathology and speech therapy. According to Erica, what makes these programs and services unique to Ageility is a focus not only on desired outcomes—what a client wants to attain—but how to achieve them.
“The state of the art in physical therapy is an evidence-based approach,” she explains. “That’s the up-and-coming role we should play in our everyday practice, and that’s what’s best for the residents.” Evidence-based means studying research into which physical therapy techniques achieve those desired outcomes and applying those techniques to everyday practice. “Our continuing education for staff includes training using these newer evidence-based techniques,” Erica adds.
Ageility utilizes the newest technologies as well as techniques (evidence based practice). A specialist in physical therapy for treating Parkinson’s, a degenerative neurological disease, Erica notes that balance is an issue for these clients. Part of therapy involves using a newer technology that is essentially a computerized balance beam platform. “It’s very precise and it saves data, so you can show the person how they’re progressing with their balance and their postural alignment,” she says.
But Ageility is not only high-tech but high-touch. Its clinics, which are located within senior living communities, feature not only state-of-the-art equipment but also the comfort of being close to home. And for all the sophisticated equipment, Erica notes that the best technology in physical therapy remains the highly educated, well-trained, experienced therapist. “Ageility attracts therapists who are passionate about helping older people and specialize in the practices that help them most,” she says.
Amazing work—and amazing results
Ageility offers the full gamut of rehabilitative services—physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech language pathology and speech therapy—but it combines these services with a client’s other goals which may include not just getting better but living better. That, Erica, explains, is what makes Ageility unique. “We love to give them hope,” she says. “We love to help our clients enjoy a better quality of life. We love to see the difference we get to make in people’s lives.”
The love goes both ways. “Every day, we’re given a gift,” Erica says, recalling Morty’s story and how he’s inspired her and her colleagues. “We get to contribute to the betterment of people’s lives and the betterment of the community as a whole. And our clients thank us. I don’t know of too many jobs where you get thanked every day and people let you know you’ve made a difference. That’s really special. That’s amazing. It really is.”
Ageility is reinventing rehab for older adults with a whole-person approach to wellness. Are you or a loved one looking to reach your personal best? Find out if there’s an Ageility location near you!