Rehabilitation center helping patients get back to full strength

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Imagine being in pain, and not being able to tell anyone where you hurt. Think about suffering, and not being able to say &uot;Yes,&uot; or even nod your head when someone asks if you need their help.

Elderly people face these problems every day. It’s a situation that Allison Noga has seen far too many times.

&uot;After a stroke, a person’s language center can be damaged,&uot; says Noga, Autumn Care’s speech-language pathologist. &uot;You can ask them a question, and they might say ‘No’ because it’s the only word they can get out.&uot; At the center’s new rehabilitation center, she and Autumn Care’s other specialists intend to help patients get back to full strength, both mentally and physically.

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&uot;Everything gets a little bit slower as a person gets older,&uot; Noga explains. &uot;We help them to comprehend and produce language.

We start off with one-step commands, like ‘Touch your head.’ We’ll show them a set of pictures, tell them to point to the one we describe.&uot;

The journey back to mental fitness can be long and frustrating to the residents. But sometimes, they see it as one joyful step at a time. &uot;It’s amazing how happy they get when they learn small things, like how to shake their head,&uot; she says, laughing.

Sitting at a table, resident Helen Cook strengthens her arms with a pedal machine. &uot;I fell and hurt myself about a month ago,&uot; says Cook, 88. &uot;I just want to get strong enough to go home in time for Christmas.&uot;

For 30 years, George Johnson took care of racehorses up and down the East Coast. With the help of the rehab center, he hopes to one day step back onto the Meadowlands track in New Jersey.

&uot;I fed them and patched them up when they got lame,&uot; says the two-year resident of Autumn Care. &uot;A disc in my back is all messed up, and I have arthritis in my hands so bad that it’s hard to bait my fishing hooks at my private pond in Holland. But I want to go back to the Meadowlands, because that’s where the money is.&uot;

The center has several drills to help patients with problems similar to Johnson’s arthritis. To sharpen their motor skills, residents will perform such drills as buttoning clothes, picking up coins, and pushing pins into Styrofoam.

To make sure that its patients are ready to take care of themselves at home, the facility has created a &uot;home-like&uot; environment for residents to practice their homemaking skills. The rehab is decorated with a stove, refrigerator, washer and dryer, sink, stairs, and even a birdcage. They learn to balance a checkbook, how to pay bills, and, every once in a while, get to hop into the facility’s van to take a drive around Suffolk.

&uot;At this facility,&uot; says rehab director Nadine Gardner, &uot;we don’t listen to the excuse, ‘I’m too old.’ Maybe once people break 100, we’ll go easier on them, but we have people here in their 90s that we help get stronger.&uot;

The facility can be contacted at 934-2363.