Living With Polio

Lifestyle Changes

Making certain lifestyle changes is reported by polio survivors as the most effective treatment for the late effects of polio (Yarnell, 1998). Almost everyone who adopts such changes achieves some relief of symptoms (Westbrook & McIlwain, 1996).

The change most recommended is the adoption of energy conservation techniques, which may involve the elimination, reduction, or modification of various physical activities. Examples of elimination include taking early retirement, employing household help, and delegating tasks. Reduction of activities might include working part-time, or cutting back, but not eliminating, recreational activity and/or social commitments.

Modification of activities is the most frequently advocated method of conserving energy. Examples are reorganizing the kitchen and other work areas so that tasks can be carried out while sitting, and purchasing ergonomic and labor-saving equipment, such as a cart, grabbers, or a stair glide. Rehabilitation professionals are invaluable sources of information on techniques and equipment that will reduce energy expenditure.

The majority of survivors who incorporate more rest periods into their day experience significant benefits (Westbrook & McIlwain, 1996). Individual needs vary, but recommendations for rest include lying down for an hour in the middle of the day or after work, or taking at least two 15-minute rest breaks during the day. Alternating periods of activity and rest is optimal, because less muscle fatigue occurs, muscles recover their strength more quickly, and overall work capacity is increased (Agre & Rodriguez, 1991). Survivors are advised to pace their activities and purposefully plan their lives, so that too many engagements are not undertaken in one day. Pushing on when tired or overextending because one feels energetic can result in several days of profound fatigue.

Making lifestyle changes is difficult, often resulting in feelings of loss, guilt, and inadequacy. Changes can be facilitated by talking with a counselor, attending a support group, communicating with family members or, if this is difficult, asking a health professional to discuss with the family the need for change. Keeping a daily log of activities, rest periods, and feelings of fatigue is useful in evaluating one’s lifestyle.

Adopting a philosophy of saving one’s energy for the things most enjoyed is helpful, as is developing the ability to say “no” before becoming fatigued. Survivors should ensure that their lifestyle changes also incorporate positive experiences, such as becoming more involved in interests that they can still pursue and developing new interests and leisure pursuits. Survivors who have successfully made lifestyle changes report that they have developed and expanded their personal philosophies and their spiritual or inner lives (Westbrook & McIlwain, 1996).

Excerpt from PHI’s “Handbook on the Late Effects of Poliomyelitis for Physicians and Survivors.” © 1999 

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