Frequently referring to personally relevant goals helps older patients in skilled nursing facilities recover more fully from injury, stroke and other ailments than does standard therapy.

That’s the key discovery researchers found after testing the Enhanced Medical Rehabilitation model in a trial of 229 older adults receiving care in a SNF. Therapists employed an average of 24 motivational, goal-related messages during each participant’s therapy session. Residents who received this model of care were more physically active during sessions and had a 25% greater functional recovery when compared with residents receiving standard physical and occupational therapy.

The key to effectively employing the EMR model is to emphasize concrete goals, the study’s authors explained. For example, if a patient typically provides care for his or her grandchildren, the therapist might encourage visualizing a return to that task once he or she has recovered. “When you engage and motivate people, they do better,” noted the study’s lead author, Eric J. Lenze, M.D.

The EMR method does not add additional time to therapy and may help prevent rehospitalization in the long term, the researchers added.

“We need to get past the idea of providing more care and focus more on providing better, more bang-for-the-buck care,” Lenze said. “I think Enhanced Medical Rehabilitation does that.”

The findings were published in JAMA Network Open.