Michael Duncan AB-Winner

Keeping Seniors Socially Active: 2019 Scholarship Winner (AB)

Michael Duncan

University of Alberta – Master of Science in Physical Therapy – 2020

It was October 2014 and our family was celebrating my grandparent’s 65th wedding anniversary, a truly rare and extraordinary occasion. Two days later, an accidental fall fractured my then 86-year-old grandfather’s hip and we feared the worst. Fortunately, a successful surgery and intensive physiotherapy regimen now affords him golf, his life-long passion, three times a week at the age of 91. Throughout the rehabilitative process, I spent considerable time watching my grandfather progress while he worked directly with Physical and Occupational Therapists. While these professionals helped motivate and guide him towards recovery, the wind in my sails shifted towards rehabilitative medicine.

As a Bachelor of Science degree holder, I decided to pursue a Kinesiology after-degree at the University of Calgary in 2015. By the summer of 2017, I was accepted to the Master of Science in Physical Therapy program at the University of Alberta where I am currently a second-year student. Since completing over three-quarters of the Physiotherapy program to date, my eyes have been opened to the challenges faced collectively by our healthcare system. We are incredibly fortunate to live in a society that affords an extended lifespan; however, this comes with its own share of unique challenges. To use my grandfather as an example, although he has lived an otherwise disease-free and active lifestyle, it took only one standing-height fall to cause potentially life-threatening debilitation. It is no myth that many Canadians are living into their 8th and 9th decades thanks to advances in modern medicine. To this end, our aging population greatly requires focused, practical and cost-efficient consideration to ensure they do not suffer the compounded and long-term consequences of lost mobility.

From the onset of early adolescence, I seemed destined to work in preventative healthcare considering I spent the majority of my free time training in Taekwondo. I promoted growth and self-discipline to students after earning my black-belt at the age of 16. I had the honour of representing Canada at the World Taekwondo Championships in 2007 and I also taught for a number of years. I was incredibly fortunate to volunteer with an organization in 2018 known as Qi Creative (QiC): Young Masters Club. QiC was an MScPT program elective that allowed me to teach Taekwondo to children of all ages who were living with various physical and cognitive delays.

This experience has laid the inspirational groundwork to hopefully one day open my own Taekwondo gym. Ideally, I would like to incorporate Physiotherapy treatment to offer group exercise and training that is adapted to meet the goals of geriatric populations. The benefits of incorporating something like martial arts in a therapeutic and rehabilitative group setting include: affordability, faceted training (i.e aerobic, strength and balance exercise), psychological well-being via peer interaction and meditative practices as well as a sense of accomplishment as one earns a new belt. From a public or universal healthcare perspective, group-based activity and/or exercise allows us to see multiple patients at once, curbing the high costs of one-on-one treatment. In order for a system to operate efficiently however, these classes should not and cannot be limited to treatment post-injury/surgery.

This is where rehabilitation specialists such as my (future) self can make a difference. My vision is to create a socially interactive atmosphere geared towards our elderly population that reduces the fear and occurrence of falls while offering intrinsic benefits found only within a martial arts experience. I plan to take the knowledge acquired in school, on clinical placement and throughout my Taekwondo experience to eventually establish myself as a flagship for other healthcare providers. I hope to motivate them to implement their own unique skill sets into a creative and preventative health service for those in our public who need it most.

In summary, during my Physiotherapy career, I wish to develop martial art inspired balance and fall prevention classes for seniors. I also plan to be instrumental in helping devise similar programs for other at-risk populations as well. Physiotherapists may be rehabilitation specialists, but it is their duty to advocate for and educate on preventive healthcare initiatives in a medical system working with limited resources.