What is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy is defined as “the treatment of disease, injury, or deformity by physical methods such as massage, heat treatment, and exercise rather than by drugs or surgery.” As it applies to geriatric patients, physical therapy most often focuses on the treatment of functional problems related to pain, poor endurance, balance issues or difficulty walking, and muscle weakness. This decline in general health associated with the aging process can make day to day tasks for seniors more challenging and increase risk of serious injury.
Today, studies are showing that one in four Americans currently 65 years of age will live to be at least 90 years old. Although aging has its negative impacts on health over time, physical therapy is allowing seniors to continue living life to the fullest extent. The goal is to maintain or restore functionality and keep seniors on track for meaningful independent living.
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.
Recoup, Restore and Return Home with Senior Rehabilitation from Franciscan Ministries
Physical therapists are becoming increasingly more involved in the senior healthcare process. From decreasing pain or restoring balance to helping treat chronic illnesses, physical therapy services offer a wide range of benefits to improve quality of life in seniors. Check out our rehabilitative services at Franciscan Ministries or contact us today to learn more about how we can help you recuperate and get home sooner!