What Is Physical Therapy?
The practice of physical therapy is the treatment of disease, injury, or deformity by physical methods such as exercise, massage, and heat treatment rather than through surgery or medications. It can also be used for health maintenance or injury prevention, rather than as a reactive measure to correct an adverse condition.
Physical therapy can take many forms and can be modified to treat different types of people depending on their job, daily activities, age, or goals. Below, we take a look at how physical therapy can be utilized by those who are over 60 years old.
How Does Physical Therapy Help the Elderly?
Physical therapy for seniors can play an integral role in keeping them physically healthy, active, independent, and safe as they age. When used as a preventative tool, physical therapy can provide seniors with more mobility, strength, and confidence while helping them reduce the risk of falls and other physical ailments. It can also be deployed for the recovery of injuries, illnesses, and strokes.
Here are five key benefits for physical therapy for seniors:
- Improved Mobility: In later stages of life, mobility begins to decrease for a variety of reasons. Advanced age often results in reduced lean muscle mass and tissue, less bone density (leading to osteoporosis), degraded cartilage (which often leads to arthritis), and the accumulation of injuries of varying degrees over the years. Lack of mobility, especially after a hospital stay or an injury, can lead to the development of acute infections or pressure ulcers, or even lead to pneumonia. By focusing on mobility exercises, physical therapy can allow the patient to increase their activity, reduce the risk of acute injuries, and help them maintain their health.
- Preventing Falls: Seniors are significantly more at-risk for falls because of age-related conditions such as less physical strength, difficulties with walking and balance, vision problems, and more. Complicating things further, falls pose a significant risk to seniors as it can immobilize them and cause a domino effect of other physical problems. According to the CDC, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries each year, and one out of every five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury. In addition, more than 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling. Through physical therapy, seniors can improve their balance, coordination, strength, and functionality of their joints and muscles to help prevent falls and reduce the risk of serious injury should a fall occur.
- Decreased Pain: Physical therapy can be a tool for alleviating pain, especially when surgeries or pain relievers are not viable options. Depending on the ailment, a physical therapist can apply intentional techniques that can improve range of motion and reduce swelling. Additional techniques such as massage therapy, heat therapy, cold therapy, and electrical stimulation therapy have all demonstrated the potential to provide pain relief for a variety of conditions that affect seniors as well.
- Improvement of Age-Related Conditions and Symptoms: As health issues arise in advanced age, it is important to find effective and sustainable methods of treatment and management. Physical therapy has proven to be helpful with managing osteoporosis, dealing with the difficult side effects of cancer treatments, helping senior women reduce levels of incontinence, and more. Physical therapy has also been utilized for physical improvement or management related to arthritis, strokes, Alzheimers, Parkinson's disease, and Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Independence and Quality of Life: Activity may decrease with age, often resulting in an increase of health issues. When used as a regular part of a senior's health care efforts, physical therapy can help a patient solidify their strength, flexibility, balance, and posture so they can continue to live active and independent lives. This freedom of movement — and fewer restrictions due to physical issues — can help seniors have more satisfaction in their daily lives. It can also give them the confidence they need to live their lives more fully, and reduce their fears of fall-related injuries.
Can You Get Physical Therapy at Home?
Some older patients who need physical therapy may have limited mobility or difficulty getting themselves to a clinic for physical therapy. Fortunately, a doctor can provide a referral for physical therapy in the home so patients can receive necessary treatment without stepping outside. This is highly common for the elderly population as they recover from surgeries, strokes, fractures, heart attacks, or other physical disorders. In-home physical therapists can bring necessary equipment with them to ensure an effective treatment session within the patient's home. Physical therapy in home settings can also make the patient more comfortable and willing to make the investment into treating and improving their condition.
An added benefit of having a physical therapist come to a patient's home is they can make recommendations on how to optimize the home for safety. This may involve rearranging furniture placements and other items in the home to promote better flow, or something more substantial such as home modifications or adaptive equipment. These changes should help reduce risks of injuries or falling in the home and help foster a safer home environment for the patient.
What Is a Senior Physical Therapist?
Also known as a geriatric physical therapist, a senior physical therapist is a qualified physical therapist that specializes in treatments for conditions that commonly affect older adults. By focusing on age-related issues, a senior physical therapist can approach therapeutic options in a way that is informed and catered to an older segment of the population with a better understanding of their specific needs.
How Much Does a Geriatric Physical Therapist Make?
According to Zippia, geriatric physical therapists make an average of $83,733 a year (or an average of $40.26 an hour). They also indicate that geriatric physical therapy as a career option is expected to grow 22% by 2028, producing 54,200 job opportunities in the United States.
Physical therapy is essential for seniors in helping to maintain their health and manage their ailments as they advance in age. From pain management, to improving physical capabilities, treating adverse conditions, and reducing the risk of injury, physical therapy for seniors is an excellent non-surgical, non-drug option for improving health and well-being.