Physical Therapy Benefits for Seniors

As we age, we become increasingly susceptible to injuries, illness, and chronic conditions, all of which physical therapy for the elderly can effectively treat. It’s a non-drug treatment that can help improve symptoms of arthritis, Parkinson’s, and even cancer, and it also counters our changing bodies and reduced activity levels to improve mobility and reduce the risk for injury.

senior patent with female doctor lifting dumbbell during physical therapy

This means greater independence and quality of life that allows you to live your life to its fullest!

What Conditions Can Physical Therapy Help With?

There are many conditions which physical therapy can help with, including:

  • Arthritis

By age 65, nearly all of us have arthritis in our spines. This is true despite not everyone showing symptoms, though for those who do, it can be debilitating and confining, which is also true of arthritis in other joints.

But while anti-inflammatory drugs may treat your symptoms, physical therapy including aquatic exercise, heat treatments, electrical stimulation, and other means of improving your overall joint health rather than just masking symptoms can be a better long-term solution.

  • Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis can leave you stooped over with poor posture, and can also lead to falls and broken bones. Since it’s a condition in which your bones become brittle and porous over time, you may not have any symptoms until you do break a bone, in which case it’s very painful.

But there are specific exercises your therapist can have you perform that will build bone so you lose less of it. This may also involve therapy to improve your posture and balance so that you’re less at risk for falls and breaks, and a combination of weight bearing exercise and good nutrition will further improve your bone’s health.

  • Cancer

Cancer can be very painful, though physical therapy helps by returning as much functionality as possible. For instance, post-mastectomy  exercises can reduce swelling and help return the patient’s range of motion.

The American Cancer Society also recommends that cancer survivors and those undergoing cancer treatments reduce fatigue and improve their quality of life by maintaining physical activity. This is important since reducing pain, swelling, and numbness while restoring balance and such things as the inability to walk is the best means of allowing cancer patients to enjoy their independence and the best quality of life possible.

  • Incontinence

Though there is more than one type of urinary incontinence, your physician and a physical therapist can identify the cause of yours and create a treatment program that will help. This may involve exercises to improve your pelvic-floor muscle to better control your bladder, as well as biofeedback with gentle electrodes, and electrical stimulation.

This can help you gain control of your symptoms while reducing your need for pads, special underwear, medication, and possibly surgery.

  • Stroke

After a stroke, a treatment called “proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation” is often used to stimulate the brain and restore function by retraining it. Another treatment called “restraint therapy” that involves a “good” limb being restrained so the patient uses a weak or paralyzed limb around 85% of the time to help return its function, and speech therapy may also be used to restore the victim’s ability to speak.

  • Parkinson’s Disease

For Parkinson’s sufferers, strength training, stretching, and balance work may all be used to help counter the effects of the disease by boosting strength, mobility, and balance.

Other therapies useful in helping Parkinson’s sufferers maintain independence and good quality of life are “amplitude training,” in which movements such as arm swinging and steps are exaggerated to retrain muscles and slow the small, shuffling steps of Parkinson’s; as well as reciprocal patterns and possibly even dance steps.

  • Dementia

Patients with forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease can benefit from physical therapy for a variety of reasons. For instance, physical activity improves blood flow to the brain for better function and memory, and regular physical activity may also delay symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other dementias by improving strength, balance, and physical abilities that may be lost due to the disease. This helps prevent falls and injuries, and adding movements that the patient may remember such as dance steps or a favorite game to play can also help slow dementia’s progression.

  • Balance 

Balance problems become more common as we get older, with as much as 75% of our population over age 70 experiencing them. This may be for a variety of reasons including joint stiffness, inner ear problems, muscle weakness, complications from a stroke or other medical condition, and merely getting older.

By identifying the cause, a physical therapist can structure a treatment program for the individual that may include strengthening and stretching exercises, as well as visual tracking an inner ear training. This can help restore balance and reduce the chance of injury from falls along with the immobility and fear that often accompany a poor sense of balance.

Common Types of Physical Therapy for Seniors

While there are many variations a therapist may use to rehabilitate your condition, the four most common physical therapies are:

  1. Geriatric physical therapy, which emphasizes common conditions in seniors such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and balance disorders
  2. Orthopedic physical therapy, which treats skeletal injuries and helps with rehabilitation for those recovering from orthopedic surgery
  3. Cardiopulmonary physical therapy, which helps increase endurance and independence after a heart attack, or for those suffering pulmonary conditions such as COPD
  4. Neurological physical therapy, which focuses on the brain and body of those affected by brain trauma or diseases such as Parkinson’s or stroke.  It’s typically different that most other physical therapies, and is meant to teach patients to adapt to impairments such as the loss of balance or mobility for increased independence.

Top Benefits for Physical Therapy for Seniors

Though there are a vast number of benefits to physical therapy for the elderly, some may include:

  • Regained Independence

Staying mobile and active is what life’s all about, and by remaining physically fit you stand a better chance of maintaining both. If you’re not able to complete normal tasks on your own due to a condition you’ve suffered–including inactivity–physical therapy can often help restore the movement, balance, and muscle strength that may be holding you back.

  • Reduced Risk of Falls

As you age, the importance of maintaining your stability and sense of balance becomes increasingly important in injury prevention, especially bone breaks and head injuries. Though the reasons for poor balance may be various, physical therapy can often be applied to regain your stability and prevent future falls and injuries.

  • Treating Chronic Pain

Whether it’s from arthritis, osteoporosis, or other conditions, chronic pain can destroy your quality of life. But physical therapy to strengthen your joints, improve bone health, and decrease inflammation can be the best way to restore your ability to live a pain-free life.

  • Less Reliance on Prescription Drugs

Not only can prescription drugs come with complications and side effects including addiction, their cost can add up. But physical therapy can often be as effective in reducing and managing pain as prescription drugs, and can also produce healthy, long-term results. This includes back pain, where physical therapy has proven to be as effective as surgery for certain conditions, including spinal stenosis.

What Question Should You Ask Your Provider?

If you have a condition that requires physical therapy treatments, there are some questions you should ask your provider:

  • How much time should I set aside for each session?
  • Will I need any special equipment?
  • Are in-home sessions available?
  • What does my caretaker specialize in?
  • Will the same therapist handle all my sessions?
  • What will my typical session entail?
  • Will I feel sore, or need to make any special accommodations for the next day?

There may also be other questions you think of, but the important thing is that you ask them. Your providers are all trained professionals who put your needs first, so don’t think of any question as being too small, trivial, or even silly, since they’ll be happy to answer all of them!

Why Choose Intermountain Health?

Whether you need the best, most qualified physical therapist for seniors to help in your rehabilitation from injury, surgery, or illness, or you just need a routine checkup, Intermountain Health has got your back. With our state-of-the-art clinics located throughout your region, you can rest assured you’re never too far from our award-winning services.

And, no matter the service you need, you’ll be happy to know that your needs will come first, each and every time you visit.

At Intermountain Health, we’re proud of our position as a trusted leader in clinical quality improvement and efficient healthcare delivery along with our proven ability to help you live the healthiest life possible!

*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis from a physician or qualified healthcare professional.

Part of being well is being heard.