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Geriatric Physical Therapy: Facts & Information

  • Synopsis: Published: 2010-01-27 (Rev. 2015-11-18) - Conditions treated through geriatric physical therapy are osteoporosis, arthritis, alzheimers disease, cancer, joint replacement, hip replacement, and more. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Disabled World at Disabled World.

Geriatric Physical Therapy

Geriatric physical therapy covers a wide area of issues concerning people as they go through normal adult aging but is usually focused on the older adult. There are many conditions that affect many people as they grow older and include but are not limited to the following: arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, hip and joint replacement, balance disorders, incontinence, etc. Geriatric physical therapists specialize in providing therapy for such conditions in older adults.

Main Document

"Physical therapy intervention can prevent life-long disability, restoring the person's level of functioning to its highest level."

Geriatric physical therapy was defined as a medical specialty in 1989 and covers a broad area of concerns regarding people as they continue the process of aging, although it commonly focuses on older adults.

Among the conditions that may be treated through the use of geriatric physical therapy are osteoporosis, arthritis, alzheimer's disease, cancer, joint replacement, hip replacement, and more. The form of therapy is used in order to restore mobility, increase fitness levels, reduce pain, and to provide additional benefits.

Geriatric physical therapy is a proven means for older adults from every level of physical ability to improve their balance and strength, build their confidence, and remain active. A number of people are familiar with physical therapy as a form of treatment to pursue after an accident, or in relation to a condition such as a stroke. Physical therapy is useful for many additional reasons, such as improving balance, strength, mobility, and overall fitness. All of these are factors which older adults may benefit from, contributing to their physical abilities and helping to maintain their independence for longer periods of time. Physical therapy can also help older adults to avoid falls, something that is crucial to this population.

Falling is one of the greatest risks older adults face, often leading to things such as hip fractures which then lead to a downward health spiral. In fact, falling is such an issue among older adults that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that one-third of all people over the age of sixty-five fall every year, making falls the leading cause of injury among people from this age group. Hundreds of thousands of older adults experience falls and resulting hip fractures every year, with resulting hospitalizations. Most of the people who experience a hip fracture stay in the hospital for a minimum of one week, with approximately twenty-percent dying within a year due to the injury. Unfortunately, a number of the remaining eighty-percent do not return to their previous level of functioning. Physical therapy can help older adults to remain both strong and independent, as well as productive.

Forms of Geriatric Physical Therapy

Exercise: Exercise is defined as any form of physical activity that is beyond what the person does while performing their daily tasks. Exercise is something that is designed to both maintain and improve a person's coordination, muscle strength, flexibility and physical endurance, as well as their balance. It is meant to increase their mobility and lessen their chance of injury through falling. Exercise in relation to geriatric therapy might include activities such as stretching, walking, weight lifting, aquatic therapy, and specific exercises that are geared towards a particular injury or limitation. A physical therapist works with the person, teaching them to exercise on their own, so they may continue their exercise program at home.

Manual Therapy: Manual therapy is applied with the goals of improving the person's circulation and restoring mobility they may have lost due to an injury or lack of use. This form of therapy is also used to reduce pain. Manual therapy can include manipulation of the person's joints and muscles, as well as massage.

Education: Education is important to the success and effectiveness of geriatric physical therapy. People are taught ways of performing daily tasks safely. Physical therapists also teach people how to use assistive devices, as well as how to protect themselves from further injury. Older adults can utilize physical therapy as a means for regaining their independence. Physical therapy can help seniors to feel better, as well as to enjoy a higher quality of life.

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists provide people with a variety of services. They work with people individually, evaluating their physical capabilities and designing specific programs of exercise, education and wellness for them. Physical therapists also work with other health care providers to coordinate the person's care.

Physical therapists must have completed their coursework in the biological, medical, psychological and physical sciences. They must have graduated from an accredited education program, and have completed a bachelors, masters, or doctoral degree with specialty clinical experience in physical therapy. Many physical therapists choose to seek additional expertise in clinical specialties, although every physical therapist must meet licensure requirements in their state.

The potential for age-related bodily changes to be misunderstood can lead to limitations of daily activities. The usual process of aging does not need to result in pain, or decreased physical mobility. A physical therapist can be a source of information for understanding changes in the body, they can offer assistance for regaining lost abilities, or for development of new ones. A physical therapist can work with older adults to help them understand the physiological and anatomical changes that occur with the aging process.

Physical therapists evaluate and develop specifically designed, therapeutic exercise programs. Physical therapy intervention can prevent life-long disability, restoring the person's level of functioning to its highest level. A physical therapist uses things such as treatments with modalities, exercises, educational information, and screening programs to accomplish a number of goals with the person they are working with, such as:

  • Reduce pain
  • Improve sensation, joint proprioception
  • Increase overall fitness through exercise programs
  • Suggest assistive devices to promote independence
  • Recommend adaptations to make the person's home accessible and safe
  • Prevent further decline in functional abilities through education, energy conservation techniques, joint protection
  • Increase, restore or maintain range of motion, physical strength, flexibility, coordination, balance and endurance
  • Teach positioning, transfers, and walking skills to promote maximum function and independence within the person's capability

There are various common conditions that can be effectively treated through physical therapy. Among the specific diseases and conditions that might affect older adults which can be improved with physical therapy are arthritis, osteoarthritis, stroke, Parkinson's disease, cancer, amputations, urinary and fecal incontinence, and cardiac and pulmonary diseases. Conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia's, coordination and balance disorders, joint replacements, hip fractures, functional limitations related to mobility, orthopedic or sports injuries can also be improved through geriatric physical therapy.

Facts: Physical Therapists

Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain. These therapists are often an important part of rehabilitation and treatment of patients with chronic conditions or injuries.

Physical therapist assistants may deliver treatment and physical interventions for patients and clients under a care plan established by and under the supervision of a physical therapist.

Physical therapists entering the profession need a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. All states require physical therapists to be licensed.

Statistics: Physical Therapists

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physical therapists is expected to grow by 30 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations.
  • According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), with just a 0.2 percent unemployment rate, physical therapists are now experiencing the best employment conditions since enactment of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.


Related Information:

  1. Pediatric Physical Therapy - Facts and Information - Thomas C. Weiss - (2010-02-04)
    https://www.disabled-world.com/medical/rehabilitation/therapy/pediatric-physical-therapy.php
  2. Physical Therapy Gymnastics and People with Disabilities - Thomas C. Weiss - (2013-08-16)
    https://www.disabled-world.com/fitness/exercise/gymnastics.php
  3. Physical Therapy Travel Jobs - THERAKARE - (2010-10-08)
    https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/employment/jobs/physical-therapy-employment.php

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