Physical Therapy for the Aging Population


As we age, new health problems arise. According to the CDC, “Every second of every day in the United States an older adult falls, making falls the number one cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older Americans.” So what can be done to help prevent the ones you love from falling & keeping their independence?

Some may be surprised that physical therapists can actually play a huge role in helping the aging population. Whether it’s to recover after a surgery or to help improve their balance, it may be time to contact a local physical therapist to help you or your loved one.

A Changing Population in the United States

According to the US Census Bureau’s 2017 National Population Projections, we are going to see a drastic shift in our demographics by 2030. Starting in 2030, the baby boomer population will all reach the age of 65 or older. But what does this mean? It is projected for the first time in United States history that older people will outnumber children. The Census Bureau states that the expected shift in 2030 will result in 1 out of every 5 people US residents will be of retirement age.

As our loved ones age, the younger generations will take on the responsibility of caretakers. With the expected change, it is important to become knowledgeable of the most common health issues the older generations face and what can be done to help prevent serious injury.

How Can Physical Therapy Help the Aging Population?

It is a common misconception that physical therapy can only be used for after a serious injury, motor vehicle accident, workers compensation injury, or surgery. There are actually many other reasons to seek the help of a physical therapist. This includes gait training, improving balance, strengthening, and improving the symptoms associated with other conditions.

Gait Training

As we age, we tend to lose confidence as we walk. Many begin to rely on assisted walking devices like canes and walkers. Others begin to avoid curbs, uneven surfaces, and go the long way around to avoid obstacles in their way. That’s where physical therapy can come in!

Physical Therapists have the ability to help you gain your confidence with walking. Through strengthening exercises and proper gait training, older generations can get back to navigating their usual chores and daily life. This type of training may seem straightforward, but you would be amazed by how many people incorrectly walk, sit and stand.

Improving Balance

Balance and gait training go hand-in-hand. However, as we previously mentioned, falls are the top cause of injuries and deaths to older generations in the United States. With the help of physical therapy, you can improve your balance and reduce your chance of falling.

When you first enter physical therapy, you may be asked if you have fallen in the past year, or if you have any risk of falling. The therapist may go through a balance evaluation with you to determine the appropriate therapy regimen to get you back to feeling confident on and off your feet!

Strengthening

The human body goes through drastic changes as we age and this includes the loss of muscle mass. But, did you know that we can start losing muscle mass and functionality at the age of 30?

A lack of strength can cause impact the body in a number of different ways including a loss of mobility, weakness, fatigue and quality of life. A physical therapist can determine the appropriate exercises for you to do and how frequently they should be done. Unfortunately, strengthening doesn’t happen overnight - it takes time! Don’t be discouraged. Every day that you are working on yourself, you are working to improve your quality of life as you age.

Improving Symptoms of Diseases & Conditions

Alzheimer’s, stroke, Parkinson’s, COPD, incontinence, vertigo, and osteoarthritis are just a few of the diseases & conditions are more commonly seen amongst of the older generations. Most people do not know that physical therapy can actually help improve the symptoms of these conditions and delay, if not offset, the onset of additional symptoms.

Alzheimer’s - Physical Therapists will work with Alzheimer patients to improve their strength through various exercises that also help to improve memory. The therapist may also help retrain the patient on different movements that can allow them to get back to some of their favorite activities like gardening! Alzheimer patients who participate in physical therapy usually have improvement in their functionality and are able to reduce their depression.

Stroke - In physical therapy, a post-stroke patient will be challenged to use their affected limb. The goal of therapy for a post-stroke patient is to stimulate the part of the brain that is used to control movement. The therapist may also work on their balance and gait to help restore confidence in their movement.

Parkinson’s - Parkinson’s can result in more “robotic” like movements. In physical therapy, the therapist can prescribe exercises to improve mobility and train the body to avoid the robotic movements. Parkinson’s patients often see an improvement in their strength, mobility, flexibility and a reduction in their pain and stiffness through PT.

COPD - Exercise training in patients with COPD has shown to cause a reduction in the progression of the disease. The therapist will work with the patient to improve their strength and muscle mass. They may incorporate a treadmill, or bike to improve the patient’s endurance and shortness of breath.

Incontinence - Physical therapists can help those suffering from incontinence by finding the right muscles to engage to help improve their bladder control. Some clinics actually specialize in the pelvic floor and your doctor may ask you seek their help.

Vertigo - Vertigo doesn’t only occur in the older generations. If you are suffering from vertigo, there are some maneuvers and exercises physical therapists can do to help reduce the dizziness and the intensity of your symptoms. Every case of vertigo is different and may be treated differently.

Osteoarthritis - Overtime, the cartilage within the joints begins to deteriorate, some faster than others. As the cartilage wears away and the bone is exposed, an osteoarthritis patient may begin to experience pain, swelling, & stiffness. In physical therapy, the patient will be prescribed specific exercises & stretches to help alleviate their symptoms and improve their functionality.

Unfortunately, there is nothing people can do to stop themselves from aging, but they can be proactive in helping themselves age well! If people begin helping their bodies at an early age and maintain an exercise program and healthy eating regime, it is likely that they can reduce the symptoms that aging can cause.

If you or your loved one is suffering from any of the above conditions, or want to prevent your chances of falling, we are here to help! Our Physical Therapists want to see you maintain your strength, mobility, and independence. Call us at (949) 713-6445 to schedule.

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