April 4, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy
Paraplegia is the loss of the use of one’s legs, and in some cases one’s trunk and pelvic area as well. It’s caused by an injury to the spinal cord which interrupts the communication between the brain and the parts of one’s body located below the spinal cord injury. The result is that the paraplegic loses the ability to walk, and may lose or experience reduced feeling in those areas as well. To say that it’s a life-changing event is an understatement.
There simply is no cure for a spinal cord injury. There is no prognosis for healing of paraplegics. But it is possible for many paraplegics to regain some amount of functional independence in their lives. However this will take a lot of support and care.
Caring for paraplegics, in most cases, begins with emergency care after their injury. There may be surgery and perhaps even some time in an intensive care unit (ICU). depending upon the type of injury and how severe it is. After anywhere between about one to three weeks, the patient is typically transferred to a rehabilitation facility. This is the beginning of their ongoing care. It’s a phase that will last for the rest of their lives, continuing once they leave medical facilities and return home.
Most of what’s involved in caring for paraplegics are various ways to try to help them adjust to living a dramatically different lifestyle. A wheelchair suddenly becomes a regular part of one’s life, as does being unable to do many of the daily activities that used to be taken for granted. This includes simple, essential tasks, like eating, dressing, bathing, and going to the bathroom.
Occupational therapists play a vital role in caring for paraplegics. Since spinal cord injuries can be of different types and levels of severity, a personalized care program is going to be needed on an ongoing basis. The occupational therapist will works with patients to help them regain their ability to function and lead a meaningful life. A lot of what they do involves education. The paraplegic needs to learn a myriad of new skills, starting with getting around in a wheelchair. They’ll also have to learn new ways of doing what were formerly simple tasks, like getting in and out of bed, or using the toilet. The occupational therapist will also analyze the patient’s situation and make recommendations for modifications to the environment that will make their life easier and safer. These may include widening doors and installing ramps in place of entrance steps for better wheelchair access, as well as guide rails and support devices to assist the patient getting around and even getting dressed.
One also cannot downplay the role of a caregiver in the ongoing support of a paraplegic. This person is usually a family members or a loved one who is there to assist the paraplegic in their daily activities. Caring for a paraplegic is not an easy task, and it’s a lifetime commitment. But with the proper care and support, it’s possible for paraplegics to again experience a more functional and meaningful life.