When we think of physical therapy, we often think of it as a treatment used for patients after an injury or sickness to restore their movement and independence back to how they were before the issue happened.
In terms of geriatric care, while physical therapy is used that way, another reason for therapy is helping combat the physical effects of aging. As we age, our body begins to lose a lot of what helped us stay physically capable and independent when we are younger. Our muscle mass and bone density begins to reduce, and in some cases, we begin to lose our balance and strength.
Older adults are a unique patient demographic, and like any demographic, they have specific requirements and needs. Physical therapy that understands these needs can help improve these patients’ lives as they age. If you work with geriatric patients, here’s what to know about how physical therapy can help them.
Types of Physical Therapy
Geriatric patients can benefit from many different physical therapy specialities. The most common types of physical therapies for aging adults focus on important parts of their health and body that are necessary for them to continue living independently and healthily, whether they’re recovering from a health issue or simply looking to lessen the impact of age.
This physical therapy speciality focuses on treating and understanding conditions that are most common in aging adults. Common conditions include examples like arthritis, osteoporosis, or chronic pain. Additionally, therapy may focus on preventing falls, either by helping patients strengthen key muscles and joints or by educating patients on how to minimize injuries when falls happen.
Although some physical therapists might generally see patients of many ages, board-certified geriatric clinical specialists are specifically certified to understand the unique needs of older adults. Patients range from those who are still living independently at home to those who are in long-term care, acute care, or hospice.
As we get older, our chances of getting illnesses and chronic conditions also increases. Some of these conditions have long-term effects that require specialized forms of physical therapy to help alleviate symptoms or restore our bodies to pre-illnesses capabilities.
Physical therapy specialities that may commonly work with aging patients include orthopedic, cardiopulmonary, and neurological physical therapists. Older adults are at higher risk for heart attacks, strokes, or the development of neurological conditions, like Alzheimer’s disease. These diseases often result in the need of physical therapy as a part of their treatment.
Benefits of Physical Therapy for Geriatric Patients
Specialised physical therapy has many benefits in treating specific conditions that patients might have, but there are many general benefits of physical therapy for older and aging patients.
Helps Prevent Falls
As we get older, our body starts to lose muscle mass and bone density. Our limbs weaken, and we are prone to having issues with our balance and strength.
Through physical therapy, aging adults can maintain their strength and improve their balance, which in turn contributes to helping prevent them from falls, which can have debilitating and permanent health outcomes on older adults when they happen.
Physical therapists who specialize in geriatric physical therapy can also teach their patients techniques on preventing falls or lessening the potential impact of falls, furthering their ability to prevent this serious issue.
Promotes and Maintains Independence
Physical therapy can not only help older patients stay physically able to be independent, but it can help them decrease the impact of chronic or age-related diseases as well as help them recover if they do get sick or hurt. All of that contributes in enabling them to live independent lifestyles and reduce the need for long-term care or prescription medications.
Decreases the Risk of Injuries and Illnesses
When we’re physically fit and healthy, we’re less likely to get sick, and when we do, we’re more likely to make a quicker recovery. This still holds true as we get older.
Physical therapy also teaches patients to be aware of their bodies and their surroundings. As a result, they’re more likely to take care of themselves, know their limits, and avoid or mitigate risk that might cause problems.
Helps with Symptoms from Aging
Aging brings on its own host of symptoms and problems, whether that’s sore joints, bad knees, or chronic back pain. Through physical therapy, patients can help ease the symptoms that come from these age-related conditions and prevent them from getting worse.
Improves Symptoms from Illness
Part of our goal as health care professionals is to improve a patient’s quality of life as well as their quantity of life. Unfortunately, some diseases can’t be prevented, and when they happen, physical therapy can help patients live with and improve any resulting symptoms.
For heart attack patients, physical therapy can help them strengthen their heart and lungs gradually, so their heart can work more efficiently with the damage. Patients with neurological diseases or injuries, like a stroke, can get therapy to help retrain and strengthen damaged muscles.
Physical therapy can be a highly effective choice for many of our geriatric patients, whether they’re looking for help with age-related concerns or issues that result from an illness. As a health care professional, understand how physical therapy can benefit the patient demographics you work with, especially if they are aging adults, so our patients can live full and quality lives.