Should Seniors Use Physical Therapists for Fall Prevention?

physical therapy for seniors

Physical therapists can work wonders for seniors. As mobility issues begin to stack up, physical therapists can help ease aches and pains, teach you better ways to move your body to get the best results during exercise, and even help you recover from serious issues, such as a fall that led to injury or a stroke that has taken away some of your mobility. In fact, because physical therapists can help seniors gain strength, mobility and flexibility, working with one could be helpful in fall prevention.

What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

These professionals are experts on how the body moves. Physical therapists have advanced degrees that allow them to become licensed to practice. Every physical therapist must go through rigorous training and education to earn their licensure, which is required in every state in which they practice.

They identify mobility issues in patients of all ages, and then create a treatment plan designed to help the patient regain as much control over their body as possible. The treatment plan might include hands-on exercises, during which they help you move your body.  It might mean prescribing certain exercises that you can do at home to help you increase flexibility and movement. Or it might mean in-depth education, teaching you how the body works, and what you can do to alleviate problems or relieve pain. They might also teach you how to use certain devices to improve your mobility.

When it comes to seniors, physical therapists are well-versed in what it takes to treat this unique population. The National Council on Aging points out that eight of ten physical therapists work in settings that include elderly patients. Physical therapists bring unique talents to the table:

·         They understand the changes the body goes through as we age.

·         They know that the process of recovery, rehabilitation, and management of chronic diseases can be very different for the elderly than it can be for younger people.

·         They can create treatment programs tailored specifically to seniors that take their unique medical and physical statuses into account.

What to Expect from a Physical Therapy Appointment

If your doctor believes physical therapy could benefit you, expect to have an in-depth evaluation. The physical therapist, or PT, will assess your abilities, including your balance, coordination, flexibility, strength and endurance. They will ask questions about your mobility and your environment at home. They will also ask what your goals are for the sessions. Do you want to improve your balance and reduce your risk of falls? Do you want to regain mobility you’ve lost after a stroke or accident? Do you want to increase your muscle strength and stamina?

The PT may ask what medications you are on and what your medical history entails. They will ask questions about pain or discomfort you might be feeling.

After this evaluation, they will create a treatment plan that takes your goals and needs into account. Depending upon your situation, you might have sessions at home or in some sort of clinic. You might even have appointments via telehealth. While you might work with the physical therapist directly, you might also find yourself with a physical therapist assistant, who is working under the supervision of the physical therapist.

Physical Therapists Can Help Prevent Falls

Falls are the leading cause of injury among the elderly. According to the CDC, 95% of hip fractures are caused by falling (usually by falling sideways, such as when getting out of the shower), and falls are the number-one reason for traumatic brain injuries. While these statistics are excellent reasons to consider an emergency alert system, they are also good reasons to ask your doctor about seeing a physical therapist.

Physical therapists are well-trained in assessing the fall risk factors that can lead to someone suffering a fall and the consequences of one. They have numerous screening tools, such as STEADI – that stands for Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, and Injuries. This will help determine your risk of falls and give the physical therapist more information to go on to create a therapy regimen that might help prevent falls.

As part of this assessment, the physical therapist might ask you to complete a questionnaire about your health and your life at home. They will likely run tests to assess how strong you are and how well you can balance. They will look at your feet and legs to rule out any problems there.

Talking to your physical therapist about all the things you can do to mitigate fall risk is very important. But so is staying as safe as possible in other ways. Medical alert systems for seniors can provide the peace mind seniors need by giving you a way to call for help immediately if you suffer any type of emergency. Simply press the emergency SOS button alarm and summon help in seconds.

Having a medical alert pendant becomes even more important when you consider that once an elderly adult suffers a fall, you become twice as likely to fall again.[1]

What Happens During a Physical Therapy Session?

What your appointments will consist of depends upon those all-important goals. You might be sitting in a comfortable chair while you do exercises to strengthen your arm muscles. You might work with a variety of tools, such as balance balls or balance boards, to strengthen your legs and core muscles while improving your steadiness. You might perform stretching exercises or walk on a treadmill.

You will always be asked about your pain level, what might make any pain better or worse, activities you find difficult to do, and questions about your day-to-day life. These assessments might take place while you are performing certain exercises.

You should always bring the following to a physical therapy appointment[2]:

·         Your most comfortable clothing that allows for a wide range of movement

·         Comfortable, appropriate shoes

·         Glasses, hearing aids, walkers, canes, etc (if you use them)

·         A list of medications you are taking (this includes supplements and over-the-counter meds)

·         Any new medical information or test results

·         Any changes in your goal that you want to convey to the physical therapist

If safety and falling are concerns, an on-the-go medical alert necklace or belt clip device ensures that help may be summoned at the touch of a button, 24/7, at home or on the go.

Finding the Right Physical Therapist

While the specialists that you may add to your healthcare team might be limited by your insurance and those who happen to be in-network, you can still choose among those on a short list. As you look for the right one, your doctor should help guide you. Physical therapists often specialize in one area of practice, such as orthopedics, neurology, or geriatrics. Those who specifically treat senior adults might have much more training in fall prevention. Those who work in neurology might be best if you have suffered a stroke. And a physical therapist specializing in orthopedics can be helpful if you have broken a bone.

No matter which physical therapist you choose, make sure they understand what your goals are and help you work toward them. Your goal might not be the same as someone in a similar situation. For instance, someone who has had a stroke might want to be able to regain the ability to run the annual 5K at the local park; but someone else might simply want enough restored mobility to walk around their home safely. Your goals will determine the direction of your therapy.

The American Physical Therapy Association offers great tips for choosing the right therapist for you. And when you are ready, you can find a therapist through this handy tool. Your doctor might have recommendations for you as well. (And it’s important to remember that not all physical therapists are members of the American Physical Therapy Association. What matters is that they are properly licensed in your state.)

As always, Alert1 wishes you good health!