Physical deformities may include pectus deformities, burns, scoliosis, cleft lip and skin conditions such as vitiligo and port wine stains. In 2001, it was estimated that 1% of adults lived with a physical deformity.

While the statistics for children could not be found, the fact that many deformities such as port wine stains and cleft lip are either congenital or develop typically in adolescence (such as scoliosis) would suggest that several children and adolescents are also living with physical deformities.

It has been shown that people with physical deformities are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, social withdrawal and low self-esteem. Therefore, the relevant healthcare providers need to provide not just medical support to these individuals, but psychological support as well.

Research has also shown that age may play a part in determining the extent to which the physical deformity affects the individual. At adolescence, people place more importance on appearance as compared to other age groups. Hence, this is the most difficult period for individuals who are living with deformities.

Here are some ways in which healthcare professionals can support patients:

1. Form a support group

Support groups allow patients who live with deformities to meet so that they can discuss their experiences and give each other emotional support. Unlike formal group therapy, support groups are often not led by professional therapists. However, they can still be a helpful coping tool to complement medical treatment.

Relevant healthcare providers can help by sharing how patients that they know of have eventually come to accept their deformity and led meaningful lives in spite of it. For example, Nick Vujicic was born with phocomelia, which is a rare disorder that is characterised by the absence of arms and legs. However, he is now a motivational speaker who has inspired others by telling of how he overcomes life’s challenges despite his physical disabilities.

2. Improve on the medical help that is given to these patients

Patients with deformities often require serious medical help, depending on what they are suffering from. However, more improvements need to be made to better meet their medical needs. For example, patients with spine deformities face debilitating pain. Their condition may also seriously impact their function, self-image and overall quality of life.

Therefore, these patients require expert surgeons together with specialists in physical medicine, rehabilitation, brain control, bracing and orthotics so as to implement a treatment plan that takes into account the patient’s age, lifestyle and other factors. In order to help these patients, the relevant healthcare providers can work on improving deformity surgery, including bone graft supplements and substitutes, implant design and minimal access surgery.

3. Help patients to work towards accepting their deformities

Healthcare providers may do this making use of the cycle of acceptance, which refers to a cycle that most people go through when they have received very bad news. There are seven stages to this cycle, namely shock stage, denial stage, anger stage, bargaining stage, depression stage, testing stage and acceptance stage. Regardless of the stage that the patient is at initially, he will eventually reach acceptance stage with proper help.

When caring for patients with deformities, healthcare providers should not only provide them with basic medical treatment but should do their best to support them mentally and emotionally as well. This will help them to better deal with social pressures and to be cared for holistically. MIMS

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