Physical Therapy for Elderly Patients

Elderly physical therapy patients may seem similar to each other, since most of our bodies age in similar ways. For example, some medical professionals believe that almost all of us will have arthritis in our spines by age 65. However, everyone’s body, regardless of whether they are from Philadelphia or Milan, are unique and our musculature is as individual as we are.


Physical Therapy should be individualized

Physical therapy patients are unique from each other, regardless of their age or which shade of silver their hair. Some elderly patients are retired athletes, whose old injuries haunt them as their joints stiffen, recovering from strokes and are working to get back a full range of movement. Some may have been getting along just fine until a fall and now they are healing, regaining balance and strength. While others may simply want to be able to kneel down and garden again, or are battling a frightening onset of paralysis.

Elderly Independence for living

In other words, this therapy for senior citizens is as diverse as it is for any other group of patients. With that in mind, the common ground on which elderly patients find themselves is usually re-establishing their independence. Rarely does a person accept a physically dependent lifestyle – most of us will fight to keep ourselves moving, functioning and living under our own steam. We find it as crucial to recover from an injury, as we do to prevent further deterioration when we begin to notice our bodies failing us. Elderly patients seek physical therapy to restore flexibility and endurance for day-to-day tasks, as well as build strength and coordination. Thus, setting realistic goals for treatment is important to help patients live their lives independently.

Common ailments which that can be helped with physical therapy

Incontinence : Even though every single one of us had to learn to control our bladder as a child, we sometimes find we need to retrain those muscles as we age. The muscle groups that control the bladder can be isolated and exercised.

Osteoporosis : Physical therapy can keep posture intact with specific exercises revolving around balance and stability. Extension exercises strengthen muscles and allow flexibility of movement. Weight-bearing exercises can help prevent osteoporosis altogether.

Cancer : Patient quality of life and comfort can be improved with physical therapy. After surgery, swelling is reduced through movement therapy and range of motion is improved (or possibly restored) as they heal.

Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s : The robotic movements associated with Parkinson’s can be minimized with flexibility exercises and an Alzheimer’s patient can find joy in remembering the steps to a dance, for example.

A Physical Therapist often works with an elderly patient’s family, as well. Family members can provide encouragement and support to continue home exercise and help with them as needed. Sometimes, support from a family member can be as simple as inviting the patient to go for a walk. Family support also can be nutritional. Keeping pre-made meals stocked in the kitchen that are nutritious and ready to heat are as vital to the healing process as the exercises.

An older patient who is struggling with movement may not be prioritizing nutrition or may be adverse to some of the activities involved in preparing meals such as navigating the kitchen cabinets, gripping a can opener or using a knife. This is especially true when someone is dealing with the struggle of rising from a bed, keeping balanced while dressing or attempting to get to the bathroom.

As a Physical Therapist in Philadelphia, we work to balance physical therapy goals with the elderly patient’s desire for independence and dignity, as well as work with family or caregivers to provide the right support at home.

About the author
Fast Track Physical Therapy, the center for physical therapy in Philadelphia.
Columbia Centre, 700 South White Horse Pike, Suite D, Somerdale, NJ 08083-1253 | Phone: 856-504-6930

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By Mark Hager
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Mark Hager is an aging in place thought leader and advocate. He is the founder of, CEO of Age in Place Networks, a leading authority in the aging in place niche and a trusted voice for both consumers and business owners serving older consumers. Over the years, Mark has provided help for thousands of consumers, organizations and small businesses.