October is National Physical Therapy Month, and the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)’s #AgeWell campaign is designed to spread the idea that physical therapy isn’t just for recovering after an injury or surgery. Seniors in particular can benefit from working with a physical therapist to improve or maintain their mobility, balance and coordination – all factors that contribute to physical independence – without resorting to surgery, pills or injections. We all know that physical therapy can help patients with arthritis, stroke, and back pain, but did you know that cancer, Parkinson’s, dementia, and even incontinence patients are benefitting from physical therapy too? By helping loved ones find the physical therapy care they may not know they need, caregivers and home care companions can help them age well long into their senior years.
Exercise is the silver bullet of independent and active aging, but everyone over 45 over 40 knows that exercise can bring aches, pains, and injury. Moving into the senior years places even more importance on staying active, beyond maintaining a healthy weight and mood, because strong, mobile seniors have good balance, healthy backs, and elastic joints. Your loved one’s leisure activities may change from playing five sets of tennis to taking the grandchildren to the playground, but lower back pain, hip or knee replacement, or osteoarthritis can interfere with the fun no matter how low-impact it may seem. According to APTA, physical therapy is as effective as surgery for common knee, back and spine conditions for which surgery is typically prescribed. And who wouldn’t prefer an alternative to surgery?
But physical therapy has even more to offer seniors, with its ability to improve a slew of conditions that often accompany the aging process. Take a look at the wide range of issues – some obvious, some surprising – that physical therapy can help improve:
- Arthritis – did you know that by age 65, almost every one of us has it in the spine, but may show no symptoms? PT can help keep it that way
- Osteoporosis – avoiding falls is vital for those suffering. PT improves posture and balance
- Breast cancer – mastectomy can alter posture and range of motion, and just ‘moving around’ at home isn’t the right way to heal quickly and safely.
- Incontinence – PT can help strengthen the muscles involved to improve control.
- Stroke – most stroke patients need some kind of physical therapy to restore function, but PT can help ‘retrain’ the brain, and reduce pain
- Parkinson’s disease – physical therapy often starts at stage 4, but current theory suggests that PT at earlier stages can alleviate severe symptoms that commonly appear at stage 4
- Dementia and Alzheimers’ – falling is a serious problem for these patients, and PT can reinforce balance by engaging the muscle memory of favorite activities like dancing or gardening.
- Balance – balance is a complex issue, so PT addresses vision, muscle strength, joints, and the inner ear. Problems identified in PT can be addressed before a fall occurs.
Physical therapists are movement experts, and their guidance can keep seniors moving, out of pain, and out of surgery. Your loved one may resist physical therapy, possibly thinking it’s painful, or just for injuries, or not a viable replacement for surgery. But loving caregivers and responsible homecare companions know that physical therapy is an effective, non-invasive, and inexpensive alternative to surgery, or just a great way to stay mobile without risking a recurring injury that could require surgery. Consulting a physical therapist pro-actively can set your loved one up to age well with an active, healthy and independent lifestyle.