Physical Therapy Benefits for the Elderly

Compared with the activities and occupations our parents and grandparents held, American life has become increasingly more sedentary. We spend countless leisure hours consuming technology on TVs, computers, smartphones, and tablets. Our jobs allow or even require us to sit to perform our work. Between any medical conditions that make it challenging or unpleasant to be mobile, junk food that’s too-easily-accessible, and technology that lures us to mindlessly do nothing, it’s not surprising that Americans spend a staggering 70% of their waking hours sitting.

After retirement, it’s tempting to put your feet up after all those hard-working years. But, as the saying goes, if you don’t use it, you lose it! Mobility after retirement is vital to maintaining good memory, health, and quality of life. Physical Therapy (PT) is here to help!

1. Exercise Helps Improve Memory

There is building evidence to support that exercise is not only good for cardiovascular health, maintaining a healthy weight, and cutting down chances of other diseases, but also improving memory and cognitive functions.

Exercise stimulates the production and circulation of chemicals that grow new blood vessels in the brain. Increased circulation through exercise also brings more blood to the brain. More blood means more oxygen and nutrients. Oxygen and nutrients help maintain the overall health of the new brain cells, which improves memory and cognitive function. Exercise also improves mood through the release of endorphins, helps you sleep better, and reduces stress and anxiety. All these things are vital for good memory.

Studies show that those who exercise regularly have a decreased risk for dementia. For those already diagnosed with dementia, exercise is particularly beneficial in slowing the progression of disease.

All these reasons are great motivators for having a regular exercise routine! Unfortunately with the elderly population, it’s not always as easy as lacing up running shoes and going for a jog. This is one way physical therapists are so beneficial. They assess the overall capabilities of their patient and find the best exercise programs while maintaining safety.

2. PT Keeps the Individual Healthy and Safe

Physical therapists are trained to help their patients maintain their highest level of function for as long as they can. They strengthen muscles, improve coordination, and provide training and modifications that allow a task to be done easier. Safety is also key to being independent. Balance training is also provided to improve safety and reduce the risk of falls.

After completing the plan of care, the patient receives a Home Exercise Program (HEP). This is a light exercise program tailored to the specific needs of the patient. It helps maintain the muscle they worked hard to build. It’s usually a 5-10 minute routine that is easy to perform every day. And don’t worry—the HEPs come with pictures!

Many elderly will need assistive devices to help maintain their safety. It’s not as simple as selecting a cane from the drug store and using it as seen on TV. A physical therapist recommends an assistive device that allows the patient to be the most independent while being safe. They may even know of other devices that are better than what the patient requested! They adjust and modify each device to fit the patient’s needs and provide thorough instruction on using the device safely.

Physical therapists are trained in how to shorten recovery time from both elective surgeries and surgeries resulting from a fall. They provide accountability, motivation, answer questions, and modify treatment as the patient moves through their recovery protocol.

3. PT Decreases Caregiver Burdens

The improved strength, balance, and coordination from physical therapy significantly aids in the quality of life for the individual. They can care for themselves the way they’d like without waiting on anyone else. This not only benefits the individual, but their caregivers and loved ones.

The more independent the individual is able to be, the less the caregiver needs to do. Physical therapy allows the individual to do as much as they’re able in a safe way. The therapist also assesses the individual’s weaknesses and where they need help performing a task. For example, an individual is unable to reach the closet’s top shelf and is unsafe using a step stool. The therapist may recommend a reacher or other modifications to keep the individual safe.

Everyone benefits from the individual’s improved independence. Caregivers have a lesser burden and a better peace of mind. While they are away, their loved one is equipped with the tools they need to stay safe and healthy.

Conclusion

Mobility is vital for maintaining quality of life in any season of life, but especially in the elderly population. Physical therapy is an excellent way to combat strength, coordination, and balance deficits that come naturally with age. Caregivers can rest easy knowing that their loved one is safer and stronger at home.

Contact your doctor for a referral for physical therapy today!

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