A certain stigma applies to the term ‘aging’ – people in a rough group approximating middle age find themselves described in this manner, while those who’ve already progressed through said age group are considered ‘aged’ or even the dreaded ‘elderly.’ But the truth is, no one is aging any faster than any other person. And it’s our own attitudes about what aging truly represents that stigmatizes the process.
Perhaps the best way to explain the phenomenon is that inevitably, humans face different health challenges as life progresses. In order to best meet and overcome those challenges, it’s critical to keep one’s self in the best condition possible regardless of age. It’s much easier to begin a lifetime plan for fitness at 20 than it is at 50. As experts in movement, physical therapists are uniquely qualified to keep persons of any age active and healthy. Here are a few ways they’re accomplishing this goal.
The ‘Goal’ of PT
When adults 55+ sustain an injury or go through a prolonged illness, physical therapy can be recommended or prescribed as “one of your options.” In reality, however, PT is often the best option.
Go ahead and rack your brain for common ailments that affect adults over 55 years of age. Addressing anything from arthritis to chronic pain, from some forms of dementia to urinary incontinence, or even simply building strength and endurance, can be accomplished through a physical therapy regimen.
Of course no two people are the same regardless of age, and the goals of one 70-year-old may be completely different from another. Head out to any local 5K, fundraising walk, or even a half-marathon or marathon, and odds are you’ll see at least one person of retirement age or greater. While these cases are exceptions, they’re no less meaningful than the person looking for some simple strengthening exercises for a shoulder injury incurred over decades of hard labor.
By the time they reach age 65, the majority of adults have some form or some level of arthritis, even if they aren’t experiencing symptoms. There are solutions beyond taking a pill – available therapies include aquatic therapy, electrical stimulation, or even the simple use of ice packs.
Osteoporosis is another common condition for which PTs see numerous referrals, and in this instance, the onus turns to stability, which is accomplished by performing extension exercises to improve one’s balance and posture.
As people continue to grow older, the concern often turns to avoidance of catastrophic injuries or occurrences from which recovery is difficult. In many cases, this means avoiding falls.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of adults 65 and older fall each year in the United States and 20 – 30% of people who fall suffer moderate to severe injuries. Falls are also the leading cause of death due to injuries, and the most common cause of nonfatal injuries and hospital admissions among older adults, defined by the CDC as anyone age 65 or older. Physical therapists can help in risk reduction and prevention of falls.
Sometimes the help comes via an extended program of strengthening and balance. Other times it can be as simple as a home visit where the physical therapist can assess the environment and make recommendations that may contribute to a lessened likelihood of a fall. Improving lighting in certain areas of the home, removing obstacles such as unnecessary furniture or rugs, installing and increasing utilization of handrails, or simply eliminating clutter can make a measurable difference.
If you think that physical therapy may help you with any of these issues, see your medical provider and ask for a referral to a physical therapist. PTs can help you get moving and keep you healthy. For additional questions, please contact the Physical Therapy Department, North Country Hospital Rehabilitation, 802-334-3260.
Senior, R. (2018, September). Health aging and the physical therapist. Rehab Insider. Retrieved from: http://rehab-insider.advanceweb.com/healthy-aging-and-the-physical-therapist
Submitted by Katesel Strimbeck PT, MS is the Director of Rehabilitation Services at North Country Hospital. Katesel has been a practicing PT for 20 years. She is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).