Physical Therapy Can Benefit Seniors

Seniors share many of the same health issues as other age groups, but they have some special needs of their own. Physical therapy can be an important resource for seniors to regain or maintain function and lead fulfilling lives.

The first thing we do at Good Shepherd when people come in for physical therapy is to evaluate their  needs and develop a program of treatment to address their concerns. For seniors, we are very specific about identifying what activities are problematic for them.

Common conditions for seniors

Some common conditions that seniors may have are:

  • Arthritis
  • Loss of strength and flexibility after an illness
  • Balance issues
  • Joint replacements
  • Injuries from falls and other mishaps

Deconditioning following surgery or a hospital stay is of particular concern to seniors. Studies show that hospitalization or bed rest for one week can reduce muscle mass by 12 percent.  

Many seniors come in to one of our outpatient sites for physical therapy after a hospital stay to regain strength and mobility. They do exercises at our facility, but there’s always a home component to the recovery process. Therapy requires action every day, so our staff shows seniors how to exercise at home between visits.

Learning to adapt

In addition to helping seniors improve muscle tone and range of motion, we teach them adaptive strategies for common actions, like getting out of bed or getting into and out of a car. A different way of completing a task, often temporary until the person regains full ability, can help someone cope during recovery.

Therapy builds confidence

Deconditioning can lead to a loss of confidence in performing everyday activities. Seniors may fear attempting things that were once easy. They may become afraid of falling when walking to the mailbox or avoid cooking because they can’t bend to reach the pots. They might stop going out entirely. They can become isolated, stay at home and slip into a downward spiral, sometimes leading to depression.

Physical therapy can restore ability and confidence and help bring people back to their normal lives.

The socialization component of therapy is very important to most seniors. It gives them comfort knowing that friends and neighbors will be at our sites when they come in. They look forward to interacting with each other.

Individual programs, common goals

Whatever program of therapy we recommend, it is always personally designed for each patient. People mend faster when the prescribed program meets their unique requirements.

Still, our goals are the same for everyone: increased mobility, improved quality of life and greater independence. Therapy is about peace of mind, not just range of motion.

Sometimes after treatment ends seniors find themselves slipping back a bit and losing some of the function they had regained. So we tell them if that happens to come back in three or four months for a “tune up.” Usually a short program of therapy will get them back in shape.

NOTE: There has been some confusion about Medicare coverage for physical therapy. We recommend that you read our Be Well Blog on Medicare coverage for maintenance therapy and learn about our Stay Strong program.

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