Physical therapy can help seniors retain their independence, whether they are managing a long-term illness or just want to improve their general health and mobility.
The goal of physical therapy is to help restore and improve functionality, reduce pain and increase mobility for better strength and balance.
Falls are the major reason seniors require physical therapy.
As people age, they tend to lose flexibility, strength and often their balance, so maintaining the desired level of fitness becomes increasingly challenging. Loss of these functions could lead to a fall that could cause serious injury. Physical therapy helps improve these functions.
Osteoporosis, which is a progressive bone disease characterized by a decrease in bone mass and density, can lead to an increased risk for fractures. It is often the cause of many falls. Physical therapy and a regular exercise program help control the effects of this condition.
Strength training and exercise provided in physical therapy can also help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis. People with arthritis can benefit from physical therapy because it provides exercises to help preserve the strength and use of the joints. Physical therapy also teaches therapeutic methods to relieve discomfort through both physical techniques and activity modifications.
Physical therapy is prescribed in many cases following a hospital stay. Skimping on post hospitalization therapy can cause serious repercussions.
Using Senior Physical Therapy to Treat Chronic Illness and Disease
Throughout the aging process, risk for certain diseases and illnesses increase. Medical professionals are finding that physical therapy can be used to help seniors manage these various chronic illnesses and diseases, including:
- Arthritis: Most people 65 and older have some form of arthritis in their spine and may not present any initial symptoms or pain. PT’s utilize physical techniques to alleviate any discomfort or prevent any future pain that can occur as a result of arthritis.
- Stroke: Seniors who have suffered from a stroke most typically experience loss of muscle strength on one side of the body. Treating this symptom, PT’s use a constraint-induced movement therapy method in which the good limb is restrained, allowing the individual to focus on strength training for their weaker limb, stimulating the part of the brain that controls movement and restoring proper function to the affected limb.
- Incontinence: Working with seniors to identify specific muscles and how to use them correctly, PT’s can assign pelvic exercises that increase strength to the muscles controlling the bladder.
- Parkinson’s Disease: Approximately 1.5 million Americans have Parkinson’s Disease, with the condition most often affecting those 65 years or older. Although this disease in seniors remains irreversible and progressive, medication and physical therapy can help improve trunk flexibility, decreasing the involuntary robotic movements associated with the disease.
- Alzheimer’s Disease: PT’s work with seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia to create exercises that can improve memory functions and delay the onset of more serious memory impairments.
The Benefits of Physical Therapy for Seniors
After a senior becomes impaired in some way, whether from a recent illness or injury, chronic condition or elective surgery, it can become difficult to continue living an independent lifestyle. Physical therapists in specialized rehabilitation centers develop person-centered treatment plans to ensure patients get back to living life actively.
Some of the main benefits of physical therapy for seniors include:
- Reducing Risk of Falls: Falls are the leading cause for injury in seniors and in most cases, can result in skin-tears, fractures or other life threatening injuries. PT’s use various extension exercises that emphasize flexibility, strength and proper gait to reduce risk of future falls.
- Treating Pain Without Surgery or Drugs: Physical therapy has proven to be a cost-effective way to treat chronic pain without turning to elective surgeries or prescribed drugs.
- Reducing Risk of Infection: Seniors who are not active run a higher risk of getting pneumonia or developing skin problems, such as ulcers, which come about because of lack of movement.
- Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle: Everyone knows exercise is a key element to good health, but as we age it becomes essential to maintaining our day to day lifestyles. Seniors using physical therapy as exercise are more active, reducing risk of problems related to obesity, which are accountable for 18% of adult deaths in the U.S.
By easing pain, treating many health conditions that affect seniors, and preventing falls, it only makes sense that physical therapy can make you more independent. We’re not saying physical therapy is the magic cure for everything (if only there was such a magic cure). But we are saying that adding physical therapy to the health care mix is a great way to solve pesky issues, prevent others, and improve your overall health. And improving your overall health improves your ability to live life to the fullest.