Benefits of Physical Therapy for Seniors

Though we’ve seen and experienced the benefits of physical therapy across a wide spectrum of demographics over the years, there are some specific benefits of physical therapy for seniors that we would like to call out.

Key Takeaways:

  • Physical therapy offers tailored solutions to enhance mobility, manage pain, and prevent falls, contributing to improved overall well-being and quality of life for seniors.
  • Seniors may face barriers to accessing physical therapy, including mobility limitations, transportation difficulties, financial constraints, and cognitive impairments, which necessitate tailored solutions and support systems.
  • By addressing these barriers and leveraging the personalized care provided by physical therapists, seniors can overcome challenges, optimize their recovery outcomes, and maintain independence and vitality as they age.

Why does physical therapy benefit seniors?

Though in some cases, physical rehabilitation in older adults doesn’t have to specifically differ based on the age range, there are specific benefits that older adults stand to gain from physical therapy that may not be relevant in younger populations:

Fall prevention

As we age, the risk of falls becomes a much more important consideration in regard to physical health and injury. Younger persons who heal quickly can often manage a fall, even if they become injured as a result, because they simply rest and perform the necessary action to rebuild the strength or mobility of their joints.

Older adults heal less quickly and have a harder time regaining lost muscle mass and flexibility as a result of injuries, meaning that often falls can be a critical incident for them.

Physical therapy benefits older adults in that we have a specific focus on helping older adults build and retain strength and endurance in their hips, mobility around the hips, knees, and ankles, and balance.

This can lead to an extended quality of life and a much more confident and active adult overall.

Empowerment and independence

As mentioned above, confidence is a huge factor to retain as we age – our ability to remain independent and functional while still enjoying the physical activities we love goes a long way towards our quality of life overall.

Physical therapy is unique in its holistic approach in that it encourages the patient to take control of their own recovery by completing a home exercise program in tandem with in-office modalities and exercises.

These home exercise programs can continue for months or years after the patient has been discharged from physical therapy, meaning the patient is granted control over their own level of empowerment.

This feeling of empowerment goes a long way toward retaining a happy and functional way of life going into our later years.

Management of pain

Chronic pain is a common companion for many seniors, stemming from conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis, or injuries. Physical therapy helps seniors by providing a non-invasive approach to manage and alleviate pain.

Therapists employ various modalities such as heat therapy, massage, or gentle stretching exercises to reduce pain and discomfort. Moreover, through strengthening exercises, they help stabilize joints, minimizing the risk of further pain-inducing injuries.

Improved confidence

Simply put, more flexible, mobile, and strong adults will be more confident in their life and movements overall. We think of strength and mobility like pennies in a rainy day fund: the more we have in there, the more we can lose before we really start to feel the strain.

When we know we have the tools to bounce back from small injuries or manage pain effectively, we’re granted a confidence that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

How physical therapy for older adults differs

Every age range we work with comes with its own nuances. In the case of seniors and older adults, there are some important considerations we must take into account:

Slower healing process

As individuals age, the body’s ability to repair and regenerate tissues slows down. This means that injuries or surgeries may take longer to heal in seniors compared to younger adults.

Additionally, age-related changes in the skin, such as decreased elasticity and thinner skin layers, can also affect wound healing.

Battling sarcopenia, bone density changes, and loss of mobility

Sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength, can significantly impact physical recovery in seniors. The same goes for the natural loss of bone density over time.

This, coupled with unchecked chronic pains or injuries can lead to a perfect storm where loss of mobility and function begins to become a real problem.

In physical therapy for older adults, we directly address this issue by working with the patient to build and retain muscle mass, strength, and mobility in key portions of the body to retain function and independence over the long-haul.

Emphasis on prevention and maintenance

As we discussed earlier, falls and injuries can spell disaster for older adults. For this reason, physical recovery for seniors often involves a focus on prevention and maintenance to minimize the risk of future injuries or health complications.

This may include fall prevention strategies, chronic disease management, and lifestyle modifications aimed at promoting long-term health and vitality.

If the patient chooses, they can embark on a preventative physical therapy plan with their therapist after their initial recovery is accomplished, or they can check in with their physical therapist as they complete their at-home physical therapy plan on their own.

Addressing barriers to physical therapy in older adults

Several barriers can impede older adults’ access to physical therapy, including limited mobility, transportation difficulties, financial constraints, and cognitive impairments.

Older adults may face challenges in attending therapy sessions due to transportation limitations or lack of access to affordable transportation services. Financial constraints, such as high out-of-pocket costs or limited insurance coverage, can also deter older adults from seeking physical therapy services.

If you or a loved one is experiencing these limitations, we strongly advise that you simply discuss them with your physical therapist. It is often the case that these limitations can be addressed one by one so that the senior is able to complete their treatment successfully:

  • We can refer you a physical therapist closer to your residence or even refer you to in-home physical therapy
  • We can decrease your visit schedule and alter your home exercise program to make up for the deficiency
  • We can alter the program itself if the cost of physical therapy is a factor

Regardless of the solution implemented, we believe it’s important for seniors and older adults to have access to the healthcare they need, especially when factors like independence and quality of life are on the line.

Physical therapy as part of a holistic healthcare plan for older adults

If you’ve got any questions about the specific benefits you can expect from physical therapy, get in touch with your primary care provider or local physical therapist. If you’re anywhere in Arizona, give us a call for a consultation where we can go more in-depth in light of your personal medical history, needs, and goals.

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