Staff at the Cincinnati VA are innovating TeleRehabilitation to better assist Veterans with neurodegenerative conditions.

Backed by VA’s Office of Rural Health, the Cincinnati VA offers occupational, physical and speech therapy services through telehealth as an alternative to in-person care.

The demand for telehealth options has increased in recent years at Cincinnati VA, especially for Veterans living with neurodegenerative conditions.

Lauren Yacks, occupational therapist

“Neurodegenerative conditions are multi-faceted in the way they impact a Veteran’s day-to-day life,” said Lauren Yacks, occupational therapist at Cincinnati VA. “Veterans must cope with a loss of function, including strength, endurance and balance. But there’s also a psychological component.”

TeleRehabilitation allows flexibility and familiarity

For Veterans with neurodegenerative conditions, important tasks are taxing, and simple tasks can be challenging. “There are fluctuations of good days and bad days,” said Yacks.

TeleRehabilitation offers these Veterans the opportunity to improve their health from the comfort of home without the added physical and mental stress of getting to in-person appointments.

“TeleRehabilitation allows flexibility and adaptability for Veterans to have their concerns addressed quickly,” Yacks said.

It also allows Veterans to practice daily tasks at home with tools that are familiar to them. This eliminates the need to transfer learning from the clinic to their home environment and helps support long-term safety in the home. As a result, there are noticeable improvements in Veterans’ functionality in post-therapy evaluations.

“As an OT practitioner, I find so much value in providing therapy services to Veterans while they are in their most natural environment at home,” Yacks said. “It makes the learning component of the therapy process smoother.”

“I feel back where I belong”

To date, over 130 Veterans have participated in the occupational therapy TeleRehabilitation program. According to Yacks, there have been many Veterans with successful outcomes after participating in the program.

One Veteran, 92, participated in Cincinnati VA’s TeleRehabilitation program to help manage the loss of function he was experiencing due to Parkinson’s disease. His key concerns included difficulty dressing, writing and eating.

One of his main goals during the program was to get back upstairs with his wife in their primary bedroom. “I feel back where I belong now that I can be up with my wife again,” the Veteran said.

Over the course of eight TeleRehabilitation sessions, they also worked to improve his handwriting. “Sometimes I write my name and it looks better than it ever has before,” said the Veteran.

By the end of his TeleRehabilitation sessions, he was able to eat, dress and groom more independently. After seeing great success, this Veteran enrolled in other TeleRehabilitation therapies offered by the Cincinnati VAMC.

Seeing success

The Cincinnati VA is seeing an overwhelmingly positive response to its neurodegenerative TeleRehabilitation offerings, with more interdisciplinary programs expected in the future. “It’s really a team front,” said Yacks. “We really make each other better.”

Learn more about VA telehealth on the VA Telehealth Services website.

By Treva Lutes is the communications director of the VA Office of Connected Care

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Published on Jul. 29, 2022

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