The Benefits of Physical Therapy for Aging Adults

As we age we may feel pain, physical limitations, have an injury and a reduction in muscle strength. These adjustments may require physical therapy which is available either as a response to an incident or to help restore physical functions limited over time.

When people hear physical therapy, what often comes to mind is treatment after an injury or other serious condition. While that is certainly true, physical therapy’s benefits extend beyond that into helping people of all ages by improving strength, balance, fitness, and overall mobility.

Those core benefits are extremely helpful for older adults as muscle strength and mobility tend to decline over time as a natural part of aging.

For these reasons, your aging loved one may benefit from regular physical therapy. To find out more, we’ve outlined some fundamental information below.

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What is Physical Therapy?

In general, physical therapy helps older adults specifically restore physical functions, relieve pain, strengthen supportive muscles, repair damaged joints and other physical conditions.

A physical therapist will help patients using non-invasive, drug-free approaches. This anatomical and physiological approach to the human body can provide significant relief to all of us as we age.

Physical therapy focuses on personalized ways to develop, maintain, and restore people’s maximum movement and functional ability. It can help people at any stage of life when movement and function are threatened by aging, injuries, diseases, disorders, conditions, or environmental factors.

By utilizing physical therapy, you can improve your quality of life, looking at physical, psychological, emotional and social well-being. Physical therapy incorporates health topics such as promotion, prevention, treatment, intervention, and rehabilitation.

How Physical Therapy Can Benefit Older Adults

One of the primary benefits of physical therapy is it may help an older adult avoid surgery, as well as prevent the need for prescription medication. The various techniques employed by physical therapists help build up strength and expand the range of motion.

The most common reasons an older adult may use physical therapy include (but not limited to):

  • Recovering from injuries such as a broken hip
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Pain in all parts of the body such as knee, back, shoulder, wrist, etc.
  • Diabetes
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Stroke
  • Vertigo
  • Incontinence
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • And many other conditions

Older adults are often met with a variety of chronic conditions and many struggle with limited mobility. As described earlier, physical therapy can greatly improve mobility, strength, and motion. For example, having greater balance and flexibility can help to prevent a painful fall which approximately 33% of those aged 65+ experience annually.

In addition, physical therapy can also help people recover from, or cope with, a life-changing and potentially debilitating condition such as a stroke or diabetes.

What Are the Different Types of Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy can take on many forms based on its purpose (preventative, recovery, etc.). Here are some of the most common types an older adult may experience:

  • Geriatric Physical Therapy – focuses on the needs of older adults specializing in arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, joint replacement, and balance disorders.
  • Orthopedic Physical Therapy – supports those post-surgery, restores muscle functions and other areas related to the musculoskeletal system.
  • Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy – helps those that have had a heart attack, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or pulmonary fibrosis.
  • Neurological Physical Therapy – helps those with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, Parkinson’s disease or have suffered a brain injury to improve upon the activities of daily living.

Common Physical Therapy Program Characteristics

In general, physical therapists will develop an individualized plan that works for a person’s specific needs. Some of the common programs are:

  • Of sufficient intensity to improve muscle strength
  • Regular and sustainable (long-term intervention/participation)
  • Inclusive of dynamic balance training activities
  • Performed at a center/clinic or home; group or individual
  • Simple, easily instituted, and low cost

Does Medicare Cover Physical Therapy?

The standard answer is: it depends. You should always ask if your physical therapist accepts Medicare. Some of the services may be covered under Medicare Part A or Part B. Part A might apply to the rehabilitation facility versus Part B may apply to the outpatient physical therapy required. Be sure to check with your physical therapist, as well as Medicare directly to determine your best payment method.

If you think you or a loved one might benefit from physical therapy, search the national database of physical therapist members of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and find the physical therapist that is right for you.