Hans Hobbelen receives honourable distinction for life’s work

Hans Hobbelen ontvangt WCPT International Service Award

On 3 June in Dubai, Hans Hobbelen received the WCPT International Service Award in the education category, an honourable mention for his progressive and ground-breaking research in the field of geriatric physiotherapy.

The Ageing and Allied Health Care professor at the School of Health Care Studies was nominated by his professional brothers and sisters of the International Association of Physiotherapists working with Older People (IPTOP). Born and raised Brabander, Hans worked for 22 years as a physiotherapist in a nursing home in Eindhoven. He studied Human Movement Sciences in Maastricht and, for his final thesis, researched paratonia, and increased muscle tension in people with dementia. “I came across paratonia every day during my work in the nursing home,” explains Hans. “People in the last phase of dementia are difficult to wash and dress because of this muscle tension. Before the care professionals came, we physiotherapists did a kind of morning gymnastics with them. This is called passive mobilization. At one point I asked myself: what the hell am I doing? The person I treated was no longer able to say, ‘Get out, I don’t want this at all.’ It was not pleasant therapy at all, and I had no idea if it worked. For my master’s degree, I started researching this in a small group. And what turned out? The people I passively mobilized were remarkably stiffer than the people who didn’t receive the therapy. Then my supervisor in Maastricht said: ‘Hans, every physiotherapist in the Netherlands who works with people with dementia does this. You should turn this into your PhD research.’ I went on to investigate this phenomenon of paratonia further, developed a measuring instrument for it and found out that it did indeed have a negative effect. The physiotherapists were happy to stop the therapy.”

International research group

Hans obtained his doctorate in 2010. You can call Paratonia his life’s work. In 2012 he became a professor of Ageing and Allied Health Care at Hanze University of Applied Sciences. In 2016, he founded an international research group with researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, UMCG geriatric medicine, and his own research group, in which they investigated all kinds of motor problems in dementia. Later, researchers from Genoa and Toronto joined in. “In our research group, we look more broadly than just at my profession, so at all paramedical professions. My lines of research include frail elderly people, with all the associated health problems and all the problems that professionals experience with these people. The research questions are very broad and come from practice. We mainly look at the multidimensionality of frailty, in which social and cognitive frailty also play a role in addition to physical frailty.”

Passion for good care for frail elderly

Since 2019, Hans Hobbelen has been president of the International Association of Physiotherapists working with Older People, IPTOP for short. Before that, he was a board member of the Dutch Association for Physiotherapy in Geriatrics. He was involved in the master’s degree programme in Geriatric Physiotherapy in Utrecht. In addition to publishing scientific articles, he gives lectures at home and abroad on frailty and physiotherapy, and dementia and physiotherapy. In the Netherlands and abroad, the professor is committed to education within and outside the department of physiotherapy. He took the initiative to realize the new standard work in geriatrics physiotherapy. “It is often thought that the physiotherapist in the neighbourhood can also help an 85-year-old who has difficulty walking with his walked, even though he has osteoarthritis in his knees, and lung and heart problems. But it is very specialized work; even the most difficult subject in the world when you look at physiotherapeutic principles. You are dealing with so many factors interacting with each other. You have to build up in a well-dosed way and work towards the limit of what you can and can’t do if your intervention is to have an effect. And you don’t have results within a week. Analysis and prioritization are incredibly important in geriatric physiotherapy. The clinical reasoning process is incredibly more difficult than in regular physical therapy. I have always championed that awareness and that profession. And that is what I will be devoting myself to as president of IPTOP for the next four years. I am truly proud that the IPTOP board has nominated me for this award.”

How does the Ageing professor stay fit?

With age comes flaws. How does the Ageing professor stay fit? And what tips can he give us? “Our muscles are one big endocrine organ, an organ that secretes hormones into the bloodstream, they ask for energy, make your heart beat faster, improve blood circulation, release substances that make you happy and help you think clearly. Exercise is just incredibly healthy. It has been proven that exercise is just as effective as medication for 23 chronic conditions, and perhaps even better for a number of illnesses. That is why the most important tip I can give is: exercise what you enjoy and integrate exercise into your daily life. Clean your own hose, work in the garden, and get off the bus a few stops earlier. Social cohesion and moderate eating are also important. That’s what I’m trying to do myself.”


Fields of interest

  • Sports and Health