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Physical Therapy a Boon for Seniors

Would you believe in a nondrug treatment that works for arthritis, cancer pain, Parkinson’s, and incontinence and improves your strength and endurance? There is one — physical therapy.

When a person gets injured or has a prolonged illness, doctors often recommend physical therapy. In the case of older people, though, sometimes this is seen as just something to “try.” This could not be further from the truth. Physical therapy is “A-quality” therapy for many conditions affecting older people, from Alzheimer’s to urinary incontinence. In fact, one researcher did a study in which you had to be 100 years of age to even participate!

According to Jennifer M. Bottomley, PhD, MS, PT, president of the geriatrics section of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and adviser to the surgeon general, one of the main things that brings older people to the physical therapist is a fall. “They want and need to maintain their independence,” she says.

“It’s important to look at each individual,” stresses Tim Kauffman, PT, PhD, professor of physical therapy at the Hahnemann campus of Drexel University in Philadelphia. “Every person of any age has an individual background, say an auto accident, football injury, genetic predispositions. No two ‘old’ people are the same.”

According to APTA, physical therapy can restore or increase strength, range of motion, flexibility, coordination, and endurance — as well as reduce pain. Another important role is to retrain the patient to do everyday tasks.

Guy Davidson, of Tempe, Ariz., was 70 when he had a stroke following bypass surgery. The formerly busy minister could not speak, his right leg would not support him, and his right arm hung straight down. He went into rehab for three months. At first he could only sing, which uses a different portion of the brain than speaking, but gradually he began to speak. After many stressful sessions (“I would be sweating,” he admits), he regained much use of both his arm and leg and can dress himself, drive (he took lessons), and work full time. Now he’s back in the hospital every day — visiting sick parishioners.

Conditions Helped by Therapy

Physical therapy referrals are appropriate and helpful for many problems thought of as affecting older people.

Take arthritis, for example. By 65, almost everyone has it in their spine, Kauffman says, though not everyone has symptoms. Besides taking a pill, suffers can avail themselves of many types of physical therapy — aquatic, hot packs, electrical stimulation, ice to reduce swelling, there is a long list. “We emphasize strength, range of motion, balance, and coordination,” Kauffman says.

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5 Benefits of Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy (OT) was once known as the therapy that people who had been injured sought out in order to regain the ability to work. Over the years it has proven to be one of the most beneficial treatment options for those who wish to regain the ability to do everyday tasks such as reading and recalling information. Occupational therapists work with a variety of patients to provide the skills and information they need to meet these goals.

Here are five of the most common benefits of OT.

Prevent Return Hospital Stays

Patients who have had an extended hospital stay due to an advanced infection or serious injury may have trouble readjusting to everyday activities. Extended bed rest can cause patients to have difficulty with balance and posture due to muscle wasting (muscular atrophy), which could result in repeated injuries. The most common injuries are caused by falling: sprains, fractures and head injuries. An occupational therapist will work closely with these patients to rebuild their muscle strength, coordination and balance with exercise and adjustment/adaptive options.

Regain Independence

The type of injuries and illnesses that OT can best help may cause people to lose their ability to do normal activities like driving, walking or cleaning. This particular form of therapy was shown to be beneficial for people who were recovering from stroke. According to Medical News Today, it lowered the risk of further deterioration.

Patients who participated in after-stroke rehabilitative therapy proved better able to perform self-care tasks and were more likely to maintain these abilities, compared to patients who did not undergo occupational therapy, the researchers found. The most important finding is that occupational therapy actually works…” – Medical News Today

In this review, they found that 97 out of every 1,000 patients given therapy fo this type avoided death, dependent care or future health complications caused by deterioration. To maintain or regain the ability to live independently, occupational therapists teach their patients how to perform everyday tasks within motor/neurological and psychological limitations.

Develop Memory Aids

Memory loss is a problem that most people develop over time, or due to injury or illness. Most cases of memory loss are ascribed to advanced age, but in other cases, injury, illness or lack of nutrition can be the cause. While the latter may be treated by simply improving nutrition, the others may require more personalized treatments. OT for memory loss consists of brain exercises and tricks that help to improve organization, memory and attention. Some common memory aids may include:

  • Placing everyday items (such as keys) in an area of high visibility
  • Using audio books instead of reading manually
  • Marking important information on a calendar
  • Using tools to improve everyday life (computer, notebooks)
  • Playing memory games

Some people see improvement within a short amount of time after using these methods. However, for those with severe impairments, OT may be a lifelong treatment option.

Download the eBook: A Guide To Vocational Rehabilitation For Employers & Employees


Gain Meaningful Employment

One of the main causes of depression in those with physical disabilities (both temporary and long-term) is the inability to return to work or find meaningful employment.

Movement restrictions can limit the number of job fields a person can apply to, and in some cases, it could limit just about every field. People in this situation can seek the assistance of an occupational therapist who can help them find work. Therapists will assess the condition and each person’s ability to perform tasks that require mental alertness, memory and physical strength. After the assessment, the therapist will provide the patient with back-to-work coaching that includes:

  • Important job skills,
  • Instruction on how to perform tasks without causing further injury, and
  • Advice on how to modify tasks.

Since the nature of the patient’s condition could change, the condition must be reassessed multiple times by the therapist. New information may be given if the situation has changed.

Improve Sleep/Wake Schedule

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) is a condition that affects more than one million Americans. It is often a side effect of more serious illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, and cancer, although the condition may also occur as an effect of long-term bed rest or prescription medication. Since there isn’t a cure or treatment for CFS, doctors normally recommend a variety of options used to manage the condition, such as exercising, treating the underlying cause and using CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) along with occupational therapy. This type of therapy session will provide the patient with task-completion skills and goal-planning skills. Both are designed to help patients learn how to complete tasks based on their limitations/abilities. With OT, a CFS sufferer may successfully return to work or school, or maintain a current occupation with less stress.

Occupational therapy is not just used to treat or manage conditions, it is also used to prevent complications if sought out soon enough.