Physical Therapy interns work with young and old in Costa Rica
The placements offer interns the opportunity to assist professionals in two distinct areas of physical therapy. One involves treating elderly citizens and the other involves working with disabled children. Through the diverse needs of their patients, each placement provides a wide variety of hands-on experience for interns.
The first placement, the Asociación Centro de Atención al Anciano Francisca Valerio Badilla, is a privately-sponsored senior citizen center in Heredia, serving about 35 members of the local community. The facility is a recreation center where members can gather to socialize, share meals, and receive physical therapy treatment from an on-site therapist. The center aims to create a community where elderly citizens can pass the day with one another, while receiving nutritional advice, physical and mental stimulation, and medical information from medical and nursing students.
“We have seniors that were always seated, with no desire to do anything,” shares Karla Sequeira, the primary physical therapist for the center. “Their family members have told us of the drastic change that these seniors have had after spending time here.”
When admitted to the center, members are evaluated to assess their current physical state. From there, they are given an individualized treatment plan to help preserve their independence and quality of life.
“Our goal is to give seniors a higher standard of living and a longer life,” Sequeira continues. “We want them to live to 100 and still be walking, still be functional, still be able to carry out their daily activities. There’s nothing better for them than being able to do things themselves.”
Interns at the center will work alongside Karla, gaining insight into the various therapies utilized in maintaining and hopefully improving the functionality of the seniors at the center. “Projects Abroad interns help me to work on controlling the patients’ blood pressure and blood sugar, as well as working on various exercises for the seniors.”
They are also able to work directly with the seniors in areas such as craft projects which focus on improving fine motor skills, as well as carrying out exercises which work on balance, coordination, muscular strength, and stability.
“As a therapist, the challenge is always going to be to reach a person’s limits. To be able to help a person to make even a tiny step forward is proof that you have achieved something, and it’s always very gratifying,” adds Sequeira.
At the opposite end of the physical therapy spectrum is therapy offered to children. Unlike adults, whose focus is on maintaining their physical capacity, the focus with children is on developing muscle tone and improving functionality. The second placement, Centro de Enseñanza Especial de Heredia, offers interns the opportunity to work alongside a team of physical therapists specializing in pediatric physical therapy.
The facility is a government-sponsored educational center, receiving around 375 special needs students under the age of 21. The center divides the students into three areas: multiple disabilities, cognitive disabilities, and emotional/behavioral disabilities. Students are then given one-on-one and group treatment by the school’s team of professionals spanning the areas of physical therapy, occupational therapy, language therapy, psychology, and social work.
Each student is given treatment until they reach their maximum functionality, then they receive follow-up treatment and observations as needed. “We work under a ‘functional’ paradigm,” states head physiotherapist, Ludmila. “We focus on what the child is able to do and aim to do something positive.”
The school regularly receives local physical therapy students from nearby universities looking to gain practical experience and learn about the various disabilities the children face and how to manage them. It’s a physically demanding job and one where young energy is highly valued.
“Here we work with children that are very disabled, so we make assessments to see what kind of wheelchair the child needs, what kind of postural adjustments can be made, and what we can do to make their lives better at home or to make them more active,” continues Ludmila.
Interns may work in one or both of these placements so that they gain the experience of working in pediatrics as well as with seniors. Despite the differences in treatment approaches, both placements are eager to embrace the fresh ideas that an international community can offer.
“Anyone that comes here has a different perspective which enriches our work,” continues Ludmila. “We’ve even changed our visions over time about physical therapy… We do what we can with few resources and tend to focus more on concepts.”
By working alongside local professionals, interns have the opportunity to not only gain hands-on experience and practical understanding in the field of physical therapy, but they are also able to help their patients take small steps in improving their lives.
Read more about Physical Therapy internships in Costa Rica.