Physical therapists work in a variety of settings including skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, outpatient clinics, and fitness centers. A physical therapist (PT) is an educated, licensed healthcare professional who works with patients to restore or improve mobility, reduce pain and lessen the need for long-term prescription medications. It is common for athletes or those recovering from surgery to seek care from a physical therapist, but the aging process in and of itself can impair one’s function, creating the need for physical therapy. Physical therapy can also be used to treat specific conditions effecting the elderly such as: Parkinson’s, stroke, Alzheimer’s, incontinence, and COPD.
BALANCE & FALL PREVENTION
According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of injury and death in the elderly population. “Older adult falls are increasing and, sadly, often herald the end of independence,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. In the United States, more than one third of those age 65 and older fall each year.
Physical therapists work with patients through exercises and balance training to help increase balance and strength and reduce fall risk. They may recommend a cane or walker and instruct the patient on how to use the aid safely and properly as the misuse of these aids only increases fall risk.
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), the following are signs that it may be time for your aging loved one to see a physical therapist:
- Holding onto walls, furniture or someone else when walking
- Appearing to have difficulty walking
- Appearing to have difficulty arising from a chair
Physical therapists not only help improve their patients’ physical abilities, but they provide education. For example, a physical therapist may give tips and help one make his or her home as safe as possible to reduce fall risk.
Keep this in mind when considering moving your loved one into an assisted living community or skilled nursing facility. These senior living communities are regulated and should be a safe environment that include the following fall-prevention features: free of fall hazards, good lighting, grab bars in the bathrooms, and emergency call-alert systems.
Although arthritis is not a disease of old age, the risk of arthritis increases with age. Almost 50 percent of people over the age of 65 have arthritis. Since physical therapists treat and help prevent issues that limit the body’s ability to function in daily life, they are able to assist in the treatment of arthritis.
“Goals of physical therapy in arthritis include improving the mobility and restoring the use of affected joints, increasing strength to support the joints, and maintaining fitness and the ability to perform daily activities.” – arthritis.org
Recent studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) show that more than half of older adults surveyed said they’ve experienced inconveniencing pain within the last month. According to this assessment, bothersome pain in multiple locations is associated with decreased physical activity. Incorporating even light exercise into an elderly person’s pain management program can create positive benefits.
Treating pain in seniors is more complicated since 75% of those 65 years and older have two or more chronic conditions, and they are at higher risk of experiencing adverse drug events due to changes that accompany aging; therefore, physical therapy is a good pain management treatment option.
According to The American Physical Therapy Association, patients should choose physical therapy when:
- Pain lasts 90 days: This is when pain is considered “chronic.”
- Opioids are prescribed for pain: The CDC advises the use of physical therapy even if taking opioids for pain relief since physical therapy, and other non-drug approaches, offers a safer way to treat chronic pain.
- Pain or functionality problems are in the lower back, hip or knee: Physical therapy exercise programs are a supported treatment for such injuries.
- Patient wants to treat the pain rather than mask it: Opioids dull the pain response, eventually masking the pain. Physical therapists treat pain with exercise and other mobility practices to improve quality of life.
FINDING THE RIGHT CARE
If you or a loved one are seeking physical therapy, speak with your healthcare provider or senior living community nurse. Physical therapy allows you to actively participate in your recovery and enjoy a team atmosphere where your PT or PTA is cheering you on as you maximize your movement.
Rita H., physical therapy patient at Oak Manor Senior Living Community, says it makes her feel good that she’s trying to get better. She enjoys actively participating in her treatment and says she will do whatever her PT instructs, no matter how long it takes, because she’s “for it.” She describes the treatment as a physical and mental experience, since her PT encourages her along the way and shows patience as Rita pushes past mental blocks to achieve her goal, maximizing her functionality and movement.
Not only is it rewarding for patients receiving treatment, but many PTs and PTAs express a genuine love for the career. Georgette D., PT at Wright’s Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center says she loves working with the senior population, because it reminds her of her parents which is inspiring. She says she loves her patients more than the job itself.
“I can make a dramatic difference in not only the lives of my patients, but also their family members or anyone who cares for them,” said Justin C., PT at Addington Place at College Harbor Senior Living Community.
For more information on how to regain yours or your loved one’s independence through physical therapy, speak with your healthcare provider, or contact a local skilled nursing and rehabilitation center.
DeSoto Palms Assisted Living Community is all about Living the Life, providing assisted living care in an elegant setting that promotes independence and dignity. Residents enjoy privacy in their own apartments, but they never need to feel lonely. Personalized services are provided to meet individual needs, and activities such as games, movies, bingo and weekly outings keep residents active. Learn more today: (941) 355-0303 5601 N. Honore Ave., Sarasota, FL 34243 www.eastlakealf.com www.facebook.com/desotopalms/
By Erinn Scheib, KR Management, LLC
Since 2002, KR Management, LLC has been developing and managing senior living communities to include Independent Living, Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing Facilities.