When we were young, most of us experienced all sorts of trips and falls. Whether it was from running too fast and stumbling over, a fun ride on playground equipment gone wrong, or a game with friends that got too rowdy, as kids, it was common to get scratches, sprains, breaks, and wounds. And while these were moments when we might have cried from pain, it didn’t take us too long until we were back on our feet ready to get back in action. But the ability to bounce right back up doesn’t last forever.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 39% of the US workforce is expected to be older than 55 years of age by 2026. While studies show that older employees are generally injured less frequently than their younger colleagues, their injuries tend to be more severe and result in a longer time away from work. So, given an aging workplace and longer recovery times, what does this mean for employers?
Age increases total visits and durations
While there may be several factors at play, it doesn’t come as a shock that older adults tend to heal slower than younger people. This difference in recovery process can affect the rehabilitation journey in different ways.
A significant area of impact is the total number of physical therapy (PT) visits during an episode of care. Across all injury types, MedRisk’s data show that the number of PT visits attended by injured employees increases by about one full visit with each age group up through the 55-65 age bracket, where the average visits per episode of care remain consistent.
This means that injured employees aged 56-75+ need 21% more PT visits on average than those aged 18-55. Unsurprisingly, as the number of visits increases by age bracket, so too does duration. Data show that 31% of persons aged 56-75+ experience a longer rehabilitation process than those aged 18-55. Furthermore, while the number of visits remains fairly static in the higher age brackets, duration continues to increase with age.
Planning and acting with age in mind
As the number of total visits and duration trend higher for injured older adults, there’s obviously a domino effect. The longer these older adults take to recover, the more costly it becomes to rehabilitate and the longer it will take for them to return to work. Consequently, this can affect an organization’s operations, productivity, and bottom-line.
It now becomes increasingly more important for employers to take the necessary course of action to prevent injuries among the older workforce. One of the best ways to start is to prepare the spaces where older employees will spend a lot of time for safer functionality. From reviewing and rearranging the furniture and equipment layout to placing anti-slip mats and grip bars where needed, “age-proofing” the workplace will help lessen the probability of them getting injured at work.
Moreover, as more employers provide health and wellness benefits, they can encourage older employees to get moving. While engaging in low-impact, low-intensity activities does not mean their recovery will be as fast and smooth as it is for younger employees, physical activity certainly helps with overall balance and muscle strength.
Of course, even with preventative measures, accidents may still occur and older adults may still incur an injury in the workplace. In these cases, it’s important to have a PT partner that has clear clinical evidence-based guidelines which account for age. Based on these guidelines, they can make the appropriate, actionable recommendations from the outset, set clear expectations for the patient regarding their recovery journey, and, ultimately, ensure that the patient receives effective and efficient treatment.
A partner that can also score a claim’s potential long-term severity takes things even further. By taking into account claim, demographic, and medical data, such as the injury’s nature and cause, the patient’s age, and psychosocial factors, high-severity claims can be detected in the early stages and given the necessary attention to avoid going off track.
Effective care for age-specific recovery
While the expression that a person is “aging like a fine wine” might be common, there’s no denying that physical changes in the bodies of people as they age have a direct effect on their response to rehabilitation. With the US workforce expected to be significantly composed of older adults in the next few years, age in workers’ comp is quickly becoming a reality that organizations can no longer ignore.
And while getting these older injured adults back in action certainly won’t be as easy as it was when they were kids, arming yourself with the right knowledge, deploying preventative measures, and partnering with the right PT provider that can recommend the appropriate care for their age-specific needs can help smooth the process out.
The Growing Impact of Age on Rehabilitation: A Wake-Up Call for Employers. WorkersCompensation.com, https://www.workerscompensation.com/expert-analysis/the-growing-impact-of-age-on-rehabilitation-a-wake-up-call-for-employers/.