A palliative care gym: achieving quality of life through exercise

I.Laska_01Current EUPCA participant, Irena Laska, tells us about her work in palliative care and how some of the experiences she has gained throughout her time with the European Palliative Care Academy have inspired her to affect positive change in palliative care in her community:

As part of the EUPCA Leadership Course 2015-17, I spent an observation week at St. Christopher’s Hospice in London. I learned a lot and believe me, it was one of the most memorable and profitable experiences of my entire career as a C.E.O. in palliative care. As professionals in palliative care, we are constantly trying to ease people’s suffering and to give them opportunities to live fully until they die. It was my experience at St. Christopher’s that helped me understand that there is a place for everyone to be able to achieve this in palliative care. Inspired by what I saw at St Christopher’s on striving to provide quality of life to all patients, I have been putting all my effort into fulfilling one of our community’s goals – to give our patients a new, small, well-equipped gym as part of a palliative care facility in Korça City, Albania.

Our aim is always to ensure patients the opportunity for choice and autonomy within the limitations of their advancing illness and the building of this modest gym was welcomed by all of them. We chose the equipment carefully in order to give our patients some possibilities to meet their goals and priorities in different phases of their treatment. We carefully selected suitable equipment to fulfil the needs of the patients:

There is an indoor exercise bike in the corner of the gym. It is a lower-impact workout bike in order to keep stress in patients’ joints to a minimum. It also has on-board heart rate programmes.
Irena Laska 01In the opposite corner we have put the Nordic track treadmill, which provides a professional workout designed for our patients. It has on-board workouts and heart rate programmes as well as a built-in audio point for listening to the radio.

A polished pinewood robust Swedish ladder, which is part of the standard inventory in occupational and physiotherapy practices, is mounted on the wall next to the door of the gym. As a multifunctional device, the wall bars are used for mobilizing our patients who may be too old or feeble to support themselves securely when, for example, they are using the indoor mini trampoline that is also part of the new gym. The patients can start with a simple, low-impact bounce where their feet never even leave the surface of the trampoline. We have learned that jogging on a mini trampoline feels less strenuous than jogging on a treadmill, so this is very appropriate for the users of the gym.

Part of the inventory is also a stability ball (also called exercise ball, balance ball or fitness ball) which is great for getting back into shape after an operation because it can reduce muscle and spinal strain during certain movements.

Dumbbells of 1 kg and 2kg are there for those who Irena Laska 02may want to train one side of the body in order to cure any strength imbalances they have developed. They may also use the resistance bands to train their arms or legs and can climb up and down the stairs in the corner of the room. The posters on the walls are very inspiring and colourful and enhance the optimistic atmosphere in the gym.

We are very proud of the work which has been put into the development of this special space for our patients. Thank you to the staff of St. Christopher’s and to the EUPCA programme for your help and support in developing palliative care services in Albania.


Author: Irena Laska