The Benefits of Physical Therapy for Seniors

Senior Care

October is Physical Therapy Month! According to the American Physical Therapy Association, the month of October presents “an annual opportunity to raise awareness about the benefits of physical therapy.” At Mavencare, we’re particularly interested in how physical therapy - sometimes also called physiotherapy - benefits seniors and their unique needs. 

In this post, we’ll cover what physical therapy is, why and when it’s good for seniors, and the important role physical therapy can play in building a home care plan that will help your senior loved one stay in their own home for the long term.

What is physical therapy?

According to the University of Toronto Physical Therapy program, physical therapy is “a professional health discipline directed towards the prevention or alleviation of movement dysfunction, and towards the enhancement of physical capacity. The ultimate goal of Physical Therapy is to assist the client/patient to achieve the highest possible level of independent function.”  

Essentially, this means that physiotherapy is designed to do two things: provide proactive treatment to keep bodies moving comfortably, as well as provide reactive treatment when pain, discomfort, or dysfunction emerge. In fact, the National Council on Aging notes that while we might often think of physiotherapy as a “reactionary profession,” it actually has great value as a proactive process - particularly for seniors. 

How does physical therapy assist and benefit seniors?

As we discussed in our blog post on exercise for seniors , the ways we move our bodies can be sorted into four categories: balance, endurance, flexibility, and strength. By recommending particular exercises, physical therapists can help seniors sustain and even enhance their abilities in these four forms of movement, which helps preserve seniors’ quality of life

Of course, physiotherapy can also serve as a way to manage recovery from several conditions that commonly affect seniors, such as hip fractures/hip replacements, knee replacements, and strokes. In these circumstances, PT can help seniors move closer to their previous quality of life, regain their ability to complete activities of daily living, and learn adaptive ways to move as they recover from surgery or a health event. 

Physical therapy is a key form of treatment for certain ailments, like arthritis. For seniors who suffer from arthritis, physiotherapy can assist in strengthening the affected joints and improving their mobility . Together, increased strength and mobility can help seniors maintain their independence in completing their activities of daily living. 

Similarly, PT is useful for managing osteoporosis, since “bone is a living tissue that can be improved through some types of exercise.” For seniors with osteoporosis, PT can involve weight-bearing, strengthening, and postural exercises to help prevent decreased mobility and falls. 

A physical therapist’s ability to assess how their patient measures against norms and standards of movement for their age group is another key benefit of PT for seniors. A physiotherapist can know, for instance, if a senior’s current level of mobility puts them at risk for falls, or if strengthening exercises could help improve their ability to complete various daily tasks. Fall prevention is an important concern for many seniors and their loved ones, and proactive physical therapy can help mitigate fall risks. 

What role does physical therapy play in home care?

Physical therapy delivered in seniors’ own homes has the advantage of being specifically tailored to the patient’s needs and to the environment in which they spend the majority of their time, which means the PT exercises are “completely relevant to the patient’s needs and goals.”  

Physical therapists don’t only recommend and assist with exercises. They are also knowledgeable about supportive accessories like braces and splints, and about proper usage of mobility tools like canes and walkers, and can help seniors learn how to use these devices safely and in ways that will maximize their independence. The continued advice of a physiotherapist, combined with the assistance of a caregiver, can help seniors age comfortably in their own homes. 

On top of the ways PT directly benefits seniors, it also has the extra benefit of being a way to introduce physical activity into seniors’ everyday routines. Growing older is “associated with progressive decline in activity levels.” This increases the risk of falling for seniors and is also not favorable for conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis, which are treated in part by movement, or for seniors’ mental health. Not only has movement been found to boost mood , but the sense of independence and of feeling in control of one’s own body that PT can supply are also invaluable for mental wellness.  

Additionally, it’s important to note that physical therapists can provide ample assistance in seniors’ homes - there is no disadvantage to receiving PT at home rather than in a clinic setting. Physical therapists are “trained to utilize available resources” to provide the care that’s needed. This is helpful for seniors who have limited mobility, inconsistent access to transportation, and, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, in-home PT is an option for seniors who wish to self-isolate as much as possible. 

One of the primary goals of home care is to keep our senior loved ones safe, happy, and healthy in the comfort of their own homes - and physical therapy can play an integral part in making that goal a reality. Whether it’s proactive, reactive, or a mix of the two, combining physiotherapy with standard home care services has the potential to enhance your loved one’s quality of life and preserve their ability to live independently.