6 Types of Physical Therapy for Seniors

6 Types of Physical Therapy for Seniors

Physical therapy can provide life-changing treatments. It is common for the elderly to be prescribed physical therapy after certain health issues, such as a stroke, major surgery, or a fall that results in broken bones or other physical impairments. It might also be prescribed for those who are dealing with progressive chronic conditions, such as Alzheimer’s. And in some cases, physical therapy might be a preventative measure, meant to help patients improve their strength, stamina, and balance to avoid falling.

Most of us think about physical therapy and envision a professional assisting with exercises that improve muscle movement and flexibility. And while that is common, there are several different types of physical therapy that can benefit seniors.

If your doctor is prescribing physical therapy for you, it’s safe to say that you are dealing with mobility issues or your body has been weakened somehow. Those are very good reasons to look into medical alert technology. These personal button alarms help elderly adults remain independent yet protected. Senior life-saving alert systems from Alert1 are very affordable, especially when compared to the cost of physical therapy and other forms of care.

Reasons Why You Might Need Physical Therapy

Though some reasons are very clear-cut, such as the need to recover from a hip fracture or stroke and regain mobility, there are other reasons why physical therapy might make perfect sense for you.

·        Alleviating pain. Those who live with chronic conditions like arthritis might also live with some level of pain on a daily basis. Physical therapists can teach techniques that might alleviate the pain, as well as help improve your range of motion to help stave off future problems.

·        Reducing the medications you might need. When you’re dealing with chronic pain, you are likely on medications to relieve some of the discomfort. But those medications themselves can have side effects that might be unpleasant—including increasing the risk of falling. Physical therapy might help alleviate the pain enough that you could reduce or stop certain medications altogether.

·        Reducing your risk of falls and injuries. Falls are the leading reason for traumatic brain injury and bone fractures in the elderly; in fact, the CDC tells us that one in four seniors fall each year.1 A physical therapist can not only help you recover from injuries sustained during a fall, they can also strengthen you in order to avoid a fall in the first place.

·        Staying independent as long as possible. All of the reasons stated so far boil down to this one – allowing you to stay independent, and thus stay in your own home, for as long as possible. The sooner you can recover from an injury or surgery, the sooner you can get back to your everyday life. The less pain you are in, the better quality of life you will have. And the more you know about fall prevention, the better the odds that you can avoid a fall.

For seniors who want to age in place, it’s a good idea to look into what a mobile medical alert with fall detection can do for you. Having the peace of mind that you can simply press a button to get help 24/7 is invaluable support.

The Various Types of Physical Therapy

There are several types of physical therapy your doctor might prescribe for you. Some of these types might overlap a bit in what they treat and how they treat it. You might also find that some physical therapists within these groups will have a much more targeted practice.

Here’s what you can expect if your doctor sends you to one of them.

1.      Orthopedic

This is the most popular type of physical therapy for older adults. It’s what most people imagine when they think of physical therapy – a professional working to help someone recover their range of motion and flexibility following a serious injury or major surgery. These therapists work with the bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments with the goal of not only restoring function but relieving pain.

You might be sent to an orthopedic physical therapist if you have had a broken bone and need to restore your normal functioning – for instance, those who have a hip fracture and subsequent replacement will definitely need physical therapy to learn how to walk again. But even seniors who have suffered a sprained ankle or wrist might need physical therapy to keep the muscles and ligaments supple, help them heal properly, and get you back to feeling like yourself again.

There is a wide range of treatments available in orthopedic physical therapy, including stretching, strength training, exercises that focus on flexibility, and using the application of hot or cold to a particular area or even using electrical stimulation of the muscles to improve movement and blood flow.

2.      Geriatric

Someone who specializes in geriatric physical therapy focuses on the health issues that are frequently experienced by senior adults. This will often overlap with other types of physical therapy; for example, a geriatric physical therapist is well-versed in the same techniques that an orthopedic physical therapist might use for improvement after a hip replacement.

These professionals work with seniors who have undergone surgery or treatment for cancer, dealt with broken bones, suffered the consequences of arthritis or osteoporosis, or been diagnosed with balance disorders that make it difficult for them to move properly and safely on their own. Some might have progressive diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, that can lead to a gradual loss of mobility and difficulty with everyday activities. In cases like this, physical therapists will often work in tandem with occupational therapists to create the best quality of life possible for the patient.

The programs created by the physical therapist target a variety of goals, such as increasing mobility or reducing overall pain from chronic conditions. They create exercise plans that improve muscle strength and balance, thus helping reduce the risk of devastating falls.

3.      Neurologic

This specialization focuses on the brain and how it works with the body, especially after injury or while dealing with a chronic condition. Neurological physical therapists might work with those who have spinal cord injuries or brain injuries, such as a stroke. They work with those dealing with diabetic neuropathy, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and many more conditions. All of these conditions have the possibility of seriously affecting sensation, balance, coordination, and movement.

The work of these physical therapists is strongly tailored to the patient. A good example of this is working with a patient who has suffered a stroke, where there is no “one size fits all” rehabilitation journey.

Given that there are so many possibilities for treatment under the umbrella of neurologic physical therapy, some treatment may be provided only in hospital settings or rehabilitation centers.

4.      Clinical Electrophysiology

This is a more unusual type of physical therapy but one that holds great promise for elderly patients. These physical therapists are highly trained in electrotherapy, as well as wound management. Electrotherapy uses a technology known as electromyography, or EMG. By using electrodes in a non-invasive test, the EMG can determine the electrical activity in a muscle, which then allows the physical therapist to pinpoint where the problems are and tailor their treatments accordingly.

What does this do for elderly patients? It allows for better use of electrical stimulation to certain parts of the body. Electrotherapy can be used to prevent blood clots, ease muscle spasms, and improve blood circulation. That improvement in circulation can help alleviate pain and speed up the healing of wounds.2

5.      Cardiopulmonary

Cardiovascular physical therapy focuses on treating seniors who have suffered heart attacks or have heart disease. It involves building a patient’s endurance via proper exercise, strengthening the heart muscle, and reducing stress.

Pulmonary rehabilitation focuses on elderly patients who have problems with their lungs. This might include those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as COPD. It’s also helpful for those with cystic fibrosis and other conditions that affect breathing, including those who are struggling with a COVID infection or the aftermath. This treatment focuses on breathing exercises, ways to strengthen the chest muscles and improve endurance, as well as ways to properly manage the disease in the long-term.

Depending upon the patient’s situation, a cardiovascular physical therapist might work closely with those who provide pulmonary physical therapy to create a proper treatment plan.

6.      Oncologic

These physical therapists work with seniors who are undergoing cancer treatment or recovering from cancer. Cancer and the treatments for it can lead to an enormous variety of symptoms, including pain, difficulty walking, numbness in certain areas of the body, stiffness of the joints, loss of bone density, and so much more. Some cancer treatment can lead to specific issues that can be addressed with physical therapy; a good example is the swelling and loss of motion that might result from a mastectomy.

The treatment will be carefully tailored to the symptoms as well as to the overall goals of the patient. For example, someone might simply want to improve their range of motion so they feel more comfortable, while others might want to work on weakened muscles or reduced lung capacity. Treatment might include exercise, electrotherapy, stretching, massaging, and more.

The Importance of Safety

When you are undergoing physical therapy for any reason, you want to make sure that you don’t suffer from falls or other accidents that might set back your progress. Making sure your home is free of clutter, has non-slip flooring, and has some aging in place home modifications can help you achieve the goal of staying safe and healthy during physical therapy.

Using a fall detection alarm for seniors can also provide strong protection and peace of mind. A medical alert necklace or wristband is an affordable yet priceless gift to give yourself throughout your golden years.