As we grow older, our bodies change and, consequently, our health needs change. When you hear the terms arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, hip replacement and stroke, your mind automatically thinks about conditions that disproportionately impact the elderly. While physical therapy (PT) generally addresses a broad range of conditions for people of all ages, geriatric PT focuses primarily on conditions affecting the aging.
What makes geriatric PT unique? While PT for the general population often aims to rehabilitate injuries and allow people to resume their active lifestyle, geriatric PT focuses on improving functions for the aging. Our bodies tend to wear down over time, and as we age, many of us lose strength, muscle mass, balancing abilities, bone density, and more. Geriatric PT primarily seeks to enhance function for the aging population and reduce the risk of falling – a key priority in preserving their independence. Much effort is aimed at restoring mobility and flexibility, increasing fitness and reducing pain.
Why is geriatric PT Important? Recovery time after a fall or other injury tends to be much longer for many of the aging population. For a variety of reasons, illness and chronic diseases are more common among older adults. As they battle those challenges, many elderly adults stop exercising, which can result in a loss of mobility and a lack of physical conditioning. Hence, it typically takes longer for an older person to recover.
What are the most commonly used forms of geriatric PT?
- Orthopedic physical therapy addresses musculoskeletal injuries and helps seniors recover from orthopedic surgeries prevalent among the elderly, such as hip replacement and knee replacement. Its goal: restoring musculoskeletal function to the muscles, bones, joints, tendons and ligaments.
- Cardiopulmonary physical therapy can boost endurance and functional independence for the elderly, especially those who have had a heart attack, pulmonary fibrosis, or other conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
- Neurological physical therapy can be especially helpful to those who experience Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, Parkinson’s disease or some types of brain injuries. It aims to teach patients to deal with visual, mobility, balance and other impairments and more easily accomplish their daily activities, despite these challenges.
An increasing number of geriatric PT locations use a broad range of gentle strategies, including stretching, light exercise, walking, hydrotherapy, massage, and more. The goal remains to make basic tasks easier for senior adults and to help them remain as independent as possible.