Whether you are trying to manage the symptoms of a long-term illness or just want to improve your general health and mobility, physical therapy may help you to reach your goals and maintain your independence. In addition to helping the patient, physical therapy can also prove beneficial to caregivers-by providing easier methods for performing their caregiving responsibilities. Physical therapy is performed by licensed specialists who are capable of designing treatment plans to meet the diverse needs of their elderly clients.
Therapy can be provided at an assisted living community, at an outpatient facility, or in the comfort of your home. Treatment plans are specifically designed to maximize the quality of life and functional ability of each patient. Strength and balance training are the focus of many treatment plans. Strength training helps prevent the loss of bone density and muscle mass that leads to physical disability and frailty. When combined with balance training, strength training can also significantly reduce the high risk of falls for the elderly population.
Falls are the leading cause of accidents amongst seniors and result in a fracture in one out of three instances. It is estimated that one third to one half of the senior population falls at least once every year. These falls often lead to hip fractures, other injuries, or even death. However, seniors can combat these risk factors and regain strength and mobility by starting a regular exercise program now.
Strength training can help rebuild lost bone mass by increasing the blood flow to bones. Rebuilding bone mass is especially important for women who are suffering from osteoporosis. Additionally, strength training and exercise can help reduce the symptoms of arthritis, depression, type II diabetes, sleep disorders, and heart disease. Even individuals who are currently considered “home-bound” can benefit from exercise and strength training.
Dr. Richard Dixon, a physical therapist with Home Therapy Services, cites a case in which his patient, an 88 year old female, had lost the ability to leave her home without assistance and was using a stair lift and an electronic stimulation device to reduce the severe back pain caused by her spinal stenosis. He recalls, “First, we worked to reduce the pain associated with the spinal stenosis with pelvic/lumbar stabilization exercises, postural training, and general strengthening. Next, her balance, strength, and endurance were improved to allow walking without a device.” The patient regained full mobility and was able to grocery shop, go to movies and plays, and attend religious events into her mid-90s. Because of physical therapy, her quality of life was better in her 90s than it was in her 80s.
It is success stories like this one that highlight the importance of physical therapy and explain its growing popularity among seniors, their families, and the professionals that serve them. Senior-serving professionals have been impressed by the improvements their clients have made during therapy and consequently frequently recommend it. A Geriatric Care Manager with Coordinated Senior Care, Vicky Hulcher, LSW, C-SWCM, noted that physical therapists are a promising option for seniors who may receive little encouragement from traditional medical providers: “Some traditional providers do not see past the patient’s medical record, or they assume because of present physical limitations they are not able to improve their level of function. Working with a physical therapist can provide different options to enable the patient to develop their strength, ability and reduce their risk of injury. Therapists can make suggestions to improve the patient’s environment regarding safety issues by educating, teaching, and recommending safe and less challenging ways to assist and perform activities with the patient.”
Physical Therapists have the patience and the expertise to motivate elderly patients. “A client may be resistant to initially accepting therapy but therapists generally know how to ‘dangle the carrot!’. Therapists know how they can achieve their overall objective by beginning slowly, on a smaller scale, and increasing the goal as the patient progresses and gains their strength and confidence.” says Hulcher. Her confidence in her recommendation stems from her faith in Dr. Dixon, who she has referred clients to several times.
Of Dr. Dixon, she says, “He is successful in working with the elderly because he has a keen sense of awareness regarding their challenges and apprehensions. He approaches the individual with a firm but positive and friendly attitude.” She goes on to point out that seniors and their families often do not know that physical therapy services are available, but they are always extremely satisfied with the results. She has seen several clients gain not only balance and strength but also a renewed sense of confidence in their level of function, which helps them to achieve their goals and live in a safer environment.
Individuals of all ability levels and with all types of diagnoses can benefit from physical therapy. With each new accomplishment, ability levels and the patients’ confidence increases-all while the risk of falls and injuries decreases.