What is Geriatric Physical Therapy?
Updated: Apr 23
Physical therapy (PT) for the geriatric population specializes in treatment for the aging individuals that are 65 years or older. Geriatrics is a rapidly growing specialty in physical therapy. As we grow older, we become more susceptible to various aging-related issues. Some of these age-related conditions include: arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, hip replacements, strokes, and decreased balance. Although this is a normal occurrence, the wear and tears that we experience as we get older can occasionally lead to pain and even disability.
Physical therapists (PT) aim to improve strength, mobility, and balance for the aging population in order to lift limitations patients may face during various activities. Activities of daily living (ADLs) are essential and become harder for the aged. These activities include, but are not limited to, washing hair, dressing, cooking, cleaning, tying shoes, etc. When physical therapists (PT) treat these individuals, they examine and factor in how their pains limit them to perform these essential tasks. When working on strength, mobility and balance, the overall outcome is to get the person to a functional level by improving on these aspects so they can regain abilities that they may have lost throughout the years. What a great feeling it is when a patient regains mobility after having thought they lost it forever!
Although we mentioned a few age-related health conditions, two of the most common dysfunctions among the geriatric population includes the inability to remain independent and high-risk falls. According to the CDC, approximately one-third of all individuals 65 and older experience high-risk falls each year.
Thus, a physical therapist will evaluate their patient through a patient interview to understand and determine the patient's perception of the problem. After this initial evaluation, the physical exam is conducted in which the PT will test a wide array of abilities such as strength, balance, walk, and transfers (rising from a chair, balancing on one leg, etc). Other areas that can be evaluated include range of movement, muscle tone, presence of pain (duration of pain), and coordination.
Depending on the specific condition, PTs can use various techniques in order to treat patients. For example, for patients suffering from a stroke, PTs use constraint-induced movement therapy. This involves forcing the patient to use the weaker arm or hand. This stimulates the Cerebellum, a part of the brain that controls motor activity. Another example, for patients with COPD, PTs addressed the difficulty in breathing by exercise training that can be used to improve shortness of breath. This is done by training the muscles and increasing the aerobic capacity.
All in all, these therapists work hard to assure their patients are comfortable during their sessions and make sure they understand their own physical health. This may or may not play a small role as to why geriatric PT is one of the highest paid PT settings! For more information on the older population and related high-risk falls, check out our instagram @PTIS_Foundation.