One of the most concerning aspects of getting older is losing one’s independence. From no longer being able to drive yourself to the grocery store or doctor’s appointments to not being able to accomplish daily tasks such as personal hygiene and cooking your own meals, having to rely on family members or homecare providers can be a frightening reality for older adults. Physical therapy can go a long way towards keeping older persons self-reliant.
Losing your independence goes far beyond the physical. For many older adults, a loss of independence leads to feelings of isolation and depression. Mobility is key to prolonged positive mental health.
When you think of physical therapy, what often comes to mind is rehabilitation after an accident or illness. While this is one important aspect of physical therapy, it is not the only one. Mobility issues can stem from a variety of causes. Physical therapy can help with general strength and balance issues, as well as overall mobility. It can also assist in reducing pain from lingering injuries and help prevent falls later on. Any mobility concerns should be mentioned to your primary care practitioner and a fall prevention care plan should be in place before it is needed. Don’t wait for an accident or illness to address these issues.
How Physical Therapy Can Help Older Adults
There are several areas where a physical therapy attendant or physical therapy services can help. Sometimes family caregivers do not have the training or knowledge necessary to help their loved one. A physical therapy service can provide training to family members to assist them in keeping the patient mobile. Training can be given directly to the client or to the caregiver or both.
Specific types of training can include:
- Gait / mobility training
- Balance training
- Weight-bearing for gait
- Light gait training
Manual therapy or a sport / injury specific exercise program can be developed to meet individual needs. Body mechanics instruction and ergonomics can also be addressed with independent physical therapy. If an older adult has a prosthetic, coordinating with an orthotic and prosthetic specialist can go a long way to keeping them mobile and independent.
Beyond the physical, there are many illnesses and conditions that can benefit from the use of physical therapy. For example, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, cancer-related pain, and even incontinence can see improvements. (WebMD)
Items to Keep in Mind
- If it is determined that an older adult will benefit from physical therapy, there are both inpatient and outpatient services.
- Outpatient visits may not be covered by your insurance or the number of visits may be quite limited.
- If home health care is necessary, outpatient independent physical therapy conducted in the home may be covered by Medicare.
- All caretakers of older adults should have a fall prevention care plan for their charge. This plan should include physical therapy options and can be designed by the patient’s primary care practitioner or physical therapy services.
It is important for all older adults to keep their independence and mobility as long as possible. Physical therapy can help a patient do so, as well as providing many benefits for positive mental health and overall physical health.
Share your story about how PT has helped you or a loved one in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.
For more information, please review our Home Safety Resources.