Phoebe’s Innovative NET Rehabilitation Program Gives Cognitively Impaired Patients a New Option for Therapy

This May, Phoebe Allentown became the only skilled nursing center in the country to offer a new, innovative rehabilitation program—NET, which stands for Neurocognitive Engagement Therapy—to their residents experiencing cognitive loss. The goal of NET is to help individuals with cognitive impairment regain their function and return to their home environment.

According to data from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, approximately 60% of all residents in skilled nursing facilities demonstrate moderate to severe cognitive impairment. Moreover, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other cognitive impairments experience difficulty performing in physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy due to their difficulty in following directions or independently executing therapy tasks and exercises.

Recognizing that there are few approaches designed to meet the rehabilitation needs of this population, Phoebe’s Therapy Department, along with Phoebe’s Center for Excellence in Dementia Care, developed the NET model. This innovative approach integrates best practice dementia care strategies into the rehabilitation process and draws on knowledge, strategies and insights from other disciplines including mental health, social services, activity professionals, nursing and therapy. NET fully engages all members of the interdisciplinary care team to provide the best possible therapy experience in a way that is customized to suit each patient’s particular needs

NET also incorporates Montessori techniques and identifies functional tasks and activities that are familiar and enjoyable for the patient. For example, a man may have enjoyed playing soccer in younger years, so instead of asking him to do repetitive leg lifts, the therapist might roll a soccer ball for him to kick. This activity serves as a creative and functional mechanism for strengthening his legs.

Last year, a research study funded by The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s Brodsky Innovation Grant and The Scholler Foundation confirmed the benefits of the NET model. All therapists involved were provided with proper training and support to work with this specialized group.

The study showed that the NET program resulted in significantly greater engagement in the process of physical, occupational and speech therapies. In other words, individuals with cognitive impairment paid more attention and were more active using NET than traditional therapy. Data analysis revealed that the individuals who received NET also had significantly improved function in day-to-day activities. The team observed anecdotally that the improvement in function gained through NET allowed several individuals to return home who may not have been able to do so if provided standard therapy.

O’Shea Carney and Jennifer Howanitz, MSPT, along with their research partners, presented the study findings at the Gerontological Society of America’s Annual Scientific Meeting in Washington D.C. in November. NET has also been featured in McKnight’s Long Term Care. A video about Phoebe’s NET program can be viewed here.