Henry Ford Health System Physical Therapist Travis Summerville in conversation with Affinity Senior Care CEO Chris Zayid on his senior care podcast show Connecting the Community with Chris.

Keeping Active After 50: Expert Tips for Seniors at Home

Is your elderly loved one struggling to stay active?

In this episode of Connecting the Community, Chris dives into safe and effective exercises for seniors, along with the importance of consistency. Physical Therapist Travis Summerville of Henry Ford Health System, who works within the Beverly Hills Club, shares his expertise on creating individualized programs to fit specific needs, whether it’s Parkinson’s, MS, or simply maintaining balance and flexibility.

This episode of Connecting the Community with Chris podcast is perfect for:

– Seniors looking to stay active and independent
– Caregivers of elderly family members
– Anyone interested in fitness and injury prevention

Listen now and get the tips you need to help your loved ones stay healthy and active!

Watch the full podcast episode or read the transcript below:

Chris: Hello. Welcome to our show, Connecting the Community with Chris. I’m over here with Travis Summerville in partnership also with Henry Ford Health system, and we’re going to be talking about some valuable tips together, how, with your parents, you might be struggling with maybe some physical activity. And so, Travis is a physical therapist, and he’s going to be talking about how some major tips are going to help your parents stay active while they’re at home. And so welcome to our show. We’re excited to have you.

Travis Summerville: Thanks for having me, Chris.

Chris: So, Travis, how did you get into the field of physical therapy?

Travis Summerville: Well, when I was 19, I was studying engineering, in Lawrence Tech, and I was really into weight training back then, and I was deadlifting, and I hurt my back really bad, and I herniated a couple of discs. So, I had to go to see a physical therapist. And the first time I went to physical therapy, I was just enamored with the field, and I changed my major overnight. And so, I studied to become a physical therapist. And so, I’ve been a physical therapist for just over 28 years.

Chris: Thank you for sharing that story. You know, we all have a story. And so that was like your epiphany moment when you went through that experience.

Travis Summerville: Yes.

Chris: Turned into where you are right now. That’s great. Thank you. So, Travis, what should a senior expect when they’re receiving physical therapy with you?

Travis Summerville: Right. So, on their first visit, they’re going to get initial evaluation. We’re going to ask them what’s wrong. They’re going to give us a subjective history of their current complaint, and we take that information and perform an evaluation. So, we’ll check their range of motion, their strength, their posture. We’ll do special tests. We’ll look at their sensory system, balance, coordination, anything that we need that we think is valuable to address their complaints. From there, we’ll come up with some goals and together. And then what we’ll do is we’ll build a treatment plan based on those goals. And that might include exercise, home exercises, stretching, manual therapy, like massage. Or we’ll use modalities like heat or ice traction or electric stim.

Chris: That’s great. Sometimes like, do they ever struggle with trying to get to you? Or I know they come to you 99% of the time, you don’t go to them.

Travis Summerville: Correct. Yes. So, they’ll get a referral from their doctor. So, they’ll see their doctor first, who will write a referral for physical therapy, and then they’ll take the referral to us, or the doctor may send it electronically to us, and then we’ll set up their appointments from there.

Chris: Okay, great. So, when the seniors are coming in and seeing you, is each plan individualized per person?

Travis Summerville: Yeah, we have to, because everybody has different needs and has different, you know, complaints. And so, we have to, you know, build our treatments based on that. Even patients that have, for example, protocols, they may have a surgery like a knee replacement or an ACL or rotator cuff repair. We follow a protocol. However, those patients may have other conditions that are along the same time with their current complaint. So, we may have to address these other secondary, tertiary issues as well, too.

Chris: Yes. So, when they do have a procedure or a surgery or possibly instructions by a physician who’s going to be writing the script, he might say, hey, I want this type of therapy for this individual based on what their medical history is.

Travis Summerville: Right. And again, we may have to tailor that because that patient may have more swelling than a normal patient, or they might have more flexibility issues that we have to address, or maybe they’re having more pain than a normal patient might have, or they’ve had long term strength deficits, say a leg muscle that needs to be, you know, emphasized a bit more.

Chris: That’s where the individualization comes from, because first you have to meet with them before you decide on any type of plan.

Travis Summerville: Yep. And that way we get kind of an overview of what we’re really looking at here.

Chris: Great. So, Travis, tell us, how can seniors exercise to prevent injury?

Travis Summerville: Right. So, for injury prevention, you can kind of mitigate some of this by having them do strength training, balance and coordination training, working on their posture and flexibility. Those things should help them avoid a lot of injuries. Or if they do get injured, maybe lessen the impact of those injuries. And really, consistency of an exercise program is key. They need to do something every day.

Chris: Yes, yes. That’s what’s going to say. The key is that consistency is important and doing something every single day. And so even just getting out for a walk, they say 30 minutes to 45 minutes is dramatically helps their health status.

Travis Summerville: Yeah. And the other thing, too, is not just doing exercise just in one lump sum one part of the day and then doing nothing the rest of the day. You know, seniors should actually do what one of my mentors mentioned as “exercise snacks,” was every few hours, do a little something that’s physical. If you’re sitting too much, maybe stand up. If you’re standing too much, then maybe do something in a different position, but get your body moving in multiple planes of motion throughout the day. And that should keep the person a little more fit.

Chris: Yeah. So, if you’re a caregiver out there caring for your family member, others who are listening to this right now, if you can maybe every other hour, every hour or a couple hours, promote them to get up, walk around the house, or get outside, go get the mail together, whatever it is, try to find an excuse to get them up. Not sitting.

Travis Summerville: Right. Yep. Just a little bit here and there will have far more impact than just doing a lot all at once and then doing nothing for the next 23 hours.

Chris: Right. Then this becomes a daunting task, which makes sense. You said for 23 hours they could be not doing anything, but versus every couple hours, it adds up. But not that they don’t feel like I said, it’s a daunting task for them to do this.

Travis Summerville: Yep. Exercise can be broken up into multiple times a day.

Chris: Yeah.

Travis Summerville: And they’ll get probably even more benefit. And that’s, that’s how our human body kind of works any way.

Chris: Yeah, sure. I know dealing with seniors that you don’t want to worry about getting into the wounds or, you know, and sores and if you do sit for a long period of time, which we see in the aging population, we want to try to prevent that.

So, how are you and Henry Ford affiliated with the Beverly Hills Club?

Travis Summerville: Right. So, Henry Ford has a partnership with the Beverly Hills Club. I work for Henry Ford. I’m a Henry Ford physical therapist. And we are inside the club here. We get our referrals through Henry Ford health system. There are patients, but we also do see club members here, here as well, too. If they get a referral from the doctor, they can see us as well. So, we end up just by being here in the club, we know a lot of the members as well, too. We can see them as well.

Chris: That’s great. It’s a great club. So, I know Parkinson’s is a big deal over here. So, tell us what you got going on. I know they have special programs.

Travis Summerville: Right. Well, at Henry Ford, we do see some Parkinson’s patients here. We’ll send them to our neuro facilities if they require more strenuous care for their condition. However, the Beverly Hills Club has an outreach program called Rock Steady, and they have these clients come in and they do a boxing, a noncontact boxing program with them. And what they do is they individually assess each of these clients, and they will work at that particular level with them, but they will do different boxing drills. They’ll use Mitt work, bag work. They’ll do some footwork, and a lot of that will help with their balance and their coordination and their targeting and work them in different planes of movement they normally wouldn’t work.

Chris: If you can give one valuable tip to someone who has Parkinson’s right now, and they’re struggling with their parents who need more physical activity, what’s that one tip that comes to your mind right away?

Travis Summerville: Well, I think maybe getting some outside support with other people that have Parkinson’s, and I think a lot of those patients and clients that are in a, let’s say, a Rock Steady class might find that camaraderie with others just like that.

Chris: Yeah, I totally believe in that. You know, the support system is going to be just as strong, as making that decision to wake up and take action that day. So, what are the benefits for someone who takes these Parkinson’s classes with you guys?

Travis Summerville: Right. So, they’re going to have an improvement in their accuracy. They’re targeting with their movement patterns, opening up their movement patterns, because with Parkinson’s, they tend to truncate or shorten their movement patterns. And these class will allow them to open up and get big, wide movement patterns. They also will work in transverse planes of motion, so outside of their center of gravity, so they get to move around a little bit, work on their balance, and there’s coordination, because they have to work on their footwork, their hand work. And combining those hand and foot movements at the same time. So, coordination, balance are probably the big ones as well. They may also work on some of their posture, too, because you do have to maintain posture while you’re performing these movement patterns. And again, they’re in a class with other Parkinson’s patients, and so they get to just kind of have that camaraderie as well.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah.

Travis Summerville: And share their own stories with each other.

Chris: Yeah. And I feel like they’re not alone and during this journey because, you know, I know that the shuffling of the feet, and then there’s the tremors, and then there’s the hunchback, and so those things can be life changing scenarios.

Travis Summerville: Yeah. Yeah, all of those are worked on.

Chris: Yeah.

Travis Summerville: And done in a kind of a fun manner.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. So that way, it’s enjoyable to come.

Travis Summerville: It is.

Chris: Having this disease. I know some don’t even have the tremors. And so, I’ve had clients that they had just more of the shuffling of the feet and the hunchback but didn’t have any tremors at all. So sometimes you can have Parkinson’s with no tremors. Everyone’s individualized.

Travis Summerville: Yeah. And the trainers will individually assess each of these clients and then build their training program around that.

Chris: Yeah, that’s great. Great program for the community. Do you have individualized programs, for example, that we see all the time – MS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer treatments, dementia?

Travis Summerville: We do. All of those need to be individualized because there really isn’t any protocol approach for everybody. So, for example, like the MS patients, we do have to take into account that they can fatigue easy and that also they’re affected by heat. Heat will make their MS worse. So, we have to exercise or train them in environments that aren’t very hot. We don’t have to get them very hot as well, too, because their performance will suffer. So, we have to take that into account. And their fatigue. Cancer patients, that’s a big field, a big area. So, some of those patients may require, like wrapping for swelling if they have lymphedema in a limb. Others might have radiation fibrosis, or they receive radiation treatment. And for them, we’re doing soft tissue work and stretching to get that limb to move or stretch out. And with some of the cancer patients, they’re very weak in fatigue from chemo and just the process of the disease. So, we’re working on a lot of strengthening with that. The dementia patients, again, we don’t see so many of those here because we’re more orthopedic and sports med. However, we do see some and with that we’re working on problem solving and memory work with them while we’re doing exercise activities.

So, we’re trying to build that into the program. As far as the Lewy body is concerned, we don’t really see those patients here, but I do know that that is a type of dementia and again, I think they’re going to be seeing more of the neuro therapist for that.

Chris: Yeah, yeah. So, there’s specific programs where you say, hey listen, this is beyond me. Talk to a specialist about that.

Travis Summerville: Yeah.

Chris: And in conjunction, if they feel like there needs to be therapy involved, then that’s where you step in.

Travis Summerville: Right. Early stages of a lot of these conditions we can certainly see because it’s really based on, you know, strengthening, balance work, you know, coordination, range of motion, those kinds of things. But once these diseases progress, they might need a little more specialized care with, with PTs that specialize in that field.

Chris: Yeah. Whether you do less or more or whatever, consistency is important.

Travis Summerville: Oh, for sure, yes. Both here and then at home doing a home exercise program.

Chris: Yes, home exercise program. So, can we dive into that? What would you recommend for home exercise programs?

Travis Summerville: Well, that ranges depending on what we’re seeing. But generally, if you’re going to go to physical therapy for anything, we’re probably going to give you a home exercise program. And oftentimes each session will involve additional exercise to do at home. And so by the time you’ve completed physical therapy, we’ve probably given you a good number of exercises to work on. And they could be stretches or strengthening exercises. They could be even suggestions for the person to be doing stuff at their own gyms or their own programs. It could even be recommendations for doing classes like say, rocksteady or getting them to another community program as well. And normally we’re doing verbal instruct and demonstration of the exercises. We’ll have them also demonstrate the exercises in front of us, so we know that they’re doing it right and we’ll give them a paper handout with the pictures and the sets and the reps and the frequency. And now we also have an application, an app that they can use to go to a link where they can actually see the video of that exercise performed. So that way it’s easier for them to remember that as well.

Chris: After they’re done here, they have to go back to their daily life. And as we all know, the most important thing in our life is wanting to be independent again and feel good that we can do our daily activities on our own.

Travis Summerville: Yeah, it’s up to them. They have to do the exercises and keep up with these things. You know, while they’re in physical therapy, we want them to do these home exercises. We’re going to test them to see if they are doing it. But it’s up to them once they leave physical therapy to…

Chris: Continue in their daily life. That’s great.

So, when I walked in, I saw an incredible pool and a hot tub in there as well, too. I think you said 30 per person. Huge. So, tell me, how is that valuable for the community and the aging population?

Travis Summerville: Yeah. So, water exercise is very good for general conditioning for the body. And so, obviously, swimming is very good. But besides swimming, you could also just do aqua exercise, too, whether that’s water aerobics or performing exercises in the shallow water. And, you know, water provides buoyancy to the body. So, if somebody has joint issues, and most people, as they get older, are going to have joint issues, you can exercise for long periods of time in the water and not have that joint pain because it’s just not being loaded like it is on land.

Chris: Absolutely.

Travis Summerville: The other thing, too, water provides is it acts as a compressive force on the body, so you can actually get some reduction in swelling, too, in your limbs. And the other thing with water is that it’s kind of a unique environment in that, when you are moving the body in the water, it’s somewhat supported by the water itself. So, it’s easy to move …

Chris: Be a little bit more flexible, but then you got the resistance of it.

Travis Summerville: Yeah. And so that’s where water is unique in that, the faster you move in the water, the harder the resistance is. So, if you move your arms very slowly in the water or your legs very slowly in the water, it’s easy to move. But if you move them a lot faster, that resistance increases, and now it becomes a resistive exercise. So, it combines a lot of different things that we can’t necessarily do out of the water for these patients.

Chris: No, it’s great. I’ve always grew up knowing the value of water therapy just based off my mother, so she enjoys it and also gets lots of value from it. And so, what is the, is the club open seven days a week? What are the hours here?

Travis Summerville: I’m not sure what the hours are, but it is open seven days a week, and they do have some very long hours.

Chris: Great. Wonderful. How many times per week does a senior have to come in and see you to get results?

Travis Summerville: Normally, we see our patients twice a week for physical therapy. But there’s sometimes we see them once a week, and this could be based on their financial, you know, their financial capacity because they do have co pays. But it may also be based on the fact that they may have a very extensive home exercise program and they’re doing very well with it. And so they only need to see us once a week just to update the home exercise program. We show a few new things and then we see them the next week.

Chris: Yeah.

Travis Summerville: More of our surgical, post surgical patients we’re definitely going to see twice a week, and occasionally we may even see them three times a week.

Chris: I know our seniors very well. They want to get back to their life most of the time. So once after they see you, they hold accountable for doing the therapy at home. That way they can continue back to their daily activities.

Travis Summerville: Right. And we’ll see them twice a week. So, they’re going to get that a little bit consistency during the week as well, too.

Chris: Yeah. Yep. And get some out of the house, too. In the home environment, too. So instead of being at home, but then they could also continue having home therapy, too, after they’re done with you, outpatient, it’s called. And they can get home therapy if they like, when the therapist comes to the house.

Travis Summerville: True. Oftentimes they see the home therapist first, then us, and hopefully we can get them to a level where they may not need the home care. But again, aging’s kind of a continuum. So, you know, there’s always something on the horizon that they may have to be addressed.

Chris: Yeah, like you have your hip or knee surgery whatsoever. You know, obviously home is like first two weeks and then graduate to outpatient, get out of the house, get your therapy, and hopefully get back to your life.

Travis Summerville: That’s right.

Chris: So, what should the senior students expect on their first visit with you guys?

Travis Summerville: Right. So, they just need to prepare themselves with knowing that their medical history very well and just be ready to, you know, verbalize what kind of complaints that they have. And they should dress appropriately for physical therapy, just, you know, loose fitting clothes, something they can move around in easily, something that they can, you know, move the clothing easily as well. So don’t dress up for physical therapy. Just arrive and lose comfortable clothing because we’re going to move you.

Chris: Yes. Great. So, do you have any suggestions for someone right now searching for physical therapy for themselves?

Travis Summerville: Right. So, if they have a complaint of pain or they’re having difficulty in performing their normal physical activities in their daily life, like work around the house, or if they’re no longer having enjoyment with their recreational activities, sport activity, gardening, whatever it is. If they’re finding themselves limited, maybe see their doctor to get a prescription for physical therapy, because maybe we can address that before it gets worse and get them back to enjoying their life, performing their physical activities, getting back to the recreational activities.

Chris: Yeah, that’s great. You go like, going golfing or tennis or going, just simply picking up your granddaughter or grandson, you know, and that’s starting to affect your life. That’s when you start to say is, let’s see a professional to getting your strength back again.

Travis Summerville: Head it off early before it becomes a major problem.

Chris: Yep, that’s great tip. So, what is the best way for someone to get connected with you or the physical therapy department?

Travis Summerville: Right. Well, you can contact me here at the Beverly Hills Club. Our number is below, and that’s for physical therapy. And if someone wants to get a hold of the club for, say, the rock steady class or, or for any of their other classes, they can also contact, the number will be below as well.

Chris: That’s great. Thank you, Travis, for being with us. We’re really connected with you. And now you are connected with the community as well, too.

Travis Summerville: Thank you for having me.

Chris: Welcome.