October is Physical Therapy month, and for seniors, physical therapy has numerous benefits. When an older adult experiences an injury or is debilitated and weak from illness, physical therapy can help restore function, improve mobility, increase balance and coordination, and decrease pain.

When treating an older adult, Physical Therapists may use a combination of techniques including physical exercise such as strength training, stretching and walking, and sometimes other therapies to decrease pain and swelling such as massage, hydrotherapy, heat and cold therapy, ultrasound or electrical stimulation. They will develop a plan specific to the patient’s condition and goals.

Education is a critical part of the process when working with a Physical Therapist. Safety is always at the forefront, therefore patients are given knowledge to protect themselves from injury or re-injury while exercising, and how to move about within their environment in a safe manner.

Restorative Therapy

During recovery is not the only time that Physical therapy can benefit seniors. It is a vital part of a care plan to help seniors remain as independent as possible and – often in combination with Occupational Therapy – can make performing activities of daily living much easier. After being discharged from a physical therapy program, many seniors living in nursing home and elder care communities are then admitted into Restorative therapy programs. Restorative therapy is essentially an individualized exercise routine that is designed to help maintain the patient’s maximum function over time. One of the primary goals is to enable the patient be able to continue to do as much for themselves as possible rather than relying on staff for all activities of daily living. The more patients can do for themselves, the more they will experience better overall quality of life and less overall decline in health and wellness.

Some of the specific activities that may be a part of a restorative therapy program include:

  • Ambulation
  • Stretching
  • Weight lifting
  • Range of motion exercises
  • Therapy and Progressive Illness.

Research is increasingly showing that the role of physical therapy in treating symptoms and slowing progression of progressive illnesses is essential, due to the steady decline in functioning. Patients have experienced significant pain relief and symptom management through the proactive use of physical therapy in many conditions such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Stroke
  • MS
  • Parkinsons
  • Dementia

Many patients with chronic illness are on a lot of medications. While pharmaceuticals undoubtedly have their place in the treatment plan, using physical therapy can sometimes reduce the need for added medications and/or counterbalance the side effects experienced by patients on a multitude of medications.

How to Receive Physical Therapy

Physical therapy should be recommended by your physician or medical provider. With a prescription for treatment, therapy can be obtained in a number of settings in a variety of ways. Many senior communities have physical therapists who are either employed by the community or contracted to come in and provide services on site. In the home, home health companies can provide therapy services. For more intensive therapy following a hospital stay, patients are often admitted short-term to skilled nursing facilities for a combination of Physical, Occupational, and speech therapy as appropriate for their condition.

If you think you or your loved one could benefit from physical therapy, talk to your medical provider and first find out the potential risks and benefits based on the specific condition and then ask for a referral. Your physical therapist should work with your provider to create and adjust a care plan over time that meets your specific needs.

About the Author: Pam Reynolds, CMC is the President and co-owner of Allegiance Aging Care Services. Pam has spent almost fifteen years working in senior care including long term care facilities and home health care. Her higher education is in Social Work, and she has been credentialed as both a certified Geriatric Care Manager and Licensed Assisted Living Administrator. Read more about Pam and her team of Aging Care Professionals here



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