New certification helps therapist help seniors be their physical best
ALPENA — “You want to do something fun, Sharon?” the therapist asked, reaching for a pink balloon and tossing it to the older woman carefully keeping her balance on a wobbly, curved-bottom platform.
Andrew Doubek, who for the past four years has helped senior citizens get stronger, faster, and more powerful, wants people in their older years — and their families — to know that, while bodies and minds naturally decline as people age, it’s possible for them to get better, too.
Sometimes, it just takes a little help.
Doubek, who on Friday was helping client and coworker Sharon Anderson face new challenges in her therapy routine, was recently certified as a geriatric clinical specialist at Thunder Bay Therapy and Sports Medicine in Alpena.
He’s pretty sure he’s the only practitioner with that certification in northern Michigan.
Intensive training, topped with a minimum of 2,000 hours working with patients older than 65, prepared Doubek to help older people fight back against the effects of aging so often seen as inevitable.
Doubek’s patients often come to him for therapy after a fall or other injury. While they’re recovering, heart disease, diabetes, or other obstacles often make healing more difficult.
Going up steps can be a challenge for someone who has lost some spatial perception and can’t distinguish depth.
Walking while talking can be hard for someone who has reduced capacity to do two things at once.
With older people, there’s sometimes a mental roadblock to healing, as well, Doubek said. Dementia or other forms of mental decline can make it hard to remember instructions, much less understand why exercises are necessary.
He puts patients through cognitive tests, often as simple as asking them to repeat three words, draw a clock, and repeat the words again.
It’s not unusual for patients to forget a word or two.
“If they can’t even draw the clock right, now you know something’s going on,” he said.
The last few months of drastic, coronavirus-related changes have been hard on seniors, both emotionally and physically, Doubek said.
They’ve been afraid to go to the doctor, or not allowed to go, even when injured by a fall. They develop unhealthy behaviors to fight the pain, their medications aren’t being monitored by a doctor, and — often worst of all — they’re stuck at home, sedentary and unable to access the social component that can be so physically healing.
The Thunder Bay clinic has seen an increase in depression and anxiety in older patients in recent months, Doubek said.
Still, the summer months do offer the healing powers of fresh air and some outdoor socialization. He works to get patients strong enough to safely walk through a park without fear of falling, practicing with them in the yard outside the clinic until, he said, “the cardiologists next door think we’re loons, walking in the grass with our eyes closed.”
Some of his clients hate it.
The ones who are interested in returning to mobility enjoy the challenge, he said, but therapy is hard work that has to be uncomfortable to be effective.
Patients who are cognitively impaired don’t understand why they have to do the exercises, why they have to do what the young man in the dress shirt tells them to do.
LISTENING TO THE KID
At 29, Doubek is sometimes mistaken for a high schooler. It’s not easy for a military veteran of 82 to have to listen to a kid, and he knows it.
That’s part of the reason he wanted to get the certification, Doubek said.
Most of his clients don’t know about his new title, and they don’t care. But he wanted it to know better how to help them, and to feel more confident in building relationships with them and earning their trust.
Certainly, not all his patients look at him dubiously.
“The gereatric women really like me,” he said with comic emphasis, a pink grin spreading from beneath his mask.
He likes his clients, likes that they keep coming back and needing him, likes the complexities of their problems and looking for ways to put the puzzle pieces together to help each person get what they need from therapy.
His job isn’t ordinary.
“I literally push old people,” said Doubek.
He doesn’t talk much about strength, actually, Doubek said. Instead, he wants his patients to have power. He has them jump, stomp, push things, move quickly, play solitaire on the treadmill, hunt for playing cards in a hallway, and show their dance moves with the video game “Dance Dance Revolution” — all the while calling them gently by name and letting them see he believes they can do it.
Treating old people as frail and helpless is an injustice, he said. It’s the frail that need to be pushed the most, so they can become stronger.
To do otherwise is a disservice.
“I know some people think that makes me kind of sick: ‘You like to push old people and make them sweat? That’s messed up, dude,'” Doubek said. “But that’s all where the relationship comes in. As long as they can trust you, that’s really what it’s all about.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, email@example.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.