How can physical therapy help older people?

Physical therapy offers a whole range of benefits

Many people are under the impression that physical therapy is a treatment only used after an injury or prolonged illness. However, it offers many benefits that can enhance quality of life. It can also prevent injury, disability, and functional decline.

Reducing pain

Geriatric physical therapy focuses on the needs of aging adults. It can make a significant difference in pain levels for those who have conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis, allowing them to be more mobile and enjoy favorite hobbies like gardening again. It can also reduce the need for prescription medications used to manage pain. This makes for a clearer mind, greatly improving the overall quality of life.

Many people over the age of 65 have at least some arthritis in their spine, even if they don’t have symptoms. Physical therapy can help offset symptoms that may occur in the future, preventing pain in the first place through techniques like aquatic exercise, electrical stimulation, and hot packs.

Preventing falls

According to the National Council on Aging, falls are the leading cause of both non-fatal and fatal injuries for Americans 65 or older, with one in four falling on average every year. It’s a serious threat to safety and independence. But a physical therapy program can help improve balance, strength, and flexibility to reduce the risk.

When the body is thrown off balance, a series of “righting reactions” normally occurs to prevent a fall. As we age, the body starts to lose control of the reaction. This results in slower response times and a higher risk of falls. There are specific exercises used in physical therapy designed to help the body practice the balance “righting series” so that reaction times are more automatic.

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Physical therapists can provide comprehensive care to lower the risk of falling. They help older people maintain or increase independence through a variety of methods. These include balance training and instruction on exercises that can be performed at home. They also make recommendations to address community, work, and home risk factors that might contribute to a greater risk of falling.

Lowering the risk of infection

Older people are more susceptible to infection, especially after a hospitalization. There are movements that can be used under the guidance of a physical therapist that can restore strength and help prevent or heal problems like bedsores. Seniors who aren’t active run a higher risk of developing skin conditions like ulcers. These result from a lack of movement and getting pneumonia, another form of infection that physical therapy can help prevent.

Improving cognitive function

Older adults suffering from dementia can improve cognitive functioning while slowing the rate of decline through physical therapy. Many studies have shown that increased exercise lowers the risk of dementia overall, suggesting that physical therapy for seniors can also be used as a preventative measure.

Just one of the reasons why exercise supports brain health is that the brain requires a constant supply of oxygen, which is delivered through the blood vessels. As being active helps get the blood pumping, it keeps those vessels strong.

Additionally, exercise increases the creation of mitochondria. These cellular structures in the brain that allows the body to maintain and generate energy.

These have been found to play a key role in regulating brain function.