How Physical Therapy Helps Seniors

Feb 9, 2021 | Wellness, Home Care

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For seniors, accidents and injuries are serious obstacles to independence. Even something simple as a fall might make it impossible to live on their own. This may sound discouraging, but the truth is that in most cases, these setbacks can be reversed. In-home physical therapy helps seniors stay independent. With exercise and proper instruction, they can rebuild their strength, endurance, and mobility in order to live on their own terms.  

In-Home Physical Therapy Helps Seniors One-On-One

Physical therapy starts with a personal care plan. After an accident, the therapist meets the patient at home and leads them through some gentle movements to assess their abilities. They may ask them to stand, walk, or perform some simple tasks. If the patient isn’t struggling, the therapist might ask them to try something harder, standing on one leg for instance.   

Protocols exist for every operation following an accident. Therapists are obliged to incorporate them into every care plan, but they always start by asking the patient what their goals are. Instead of insisting everyone follow the same script, we let patients define independence for themselves. For some, it may be to live entirely on their own. Others are happy to rely on caregivers for complex tasks while doing simple ones by themselves. Parentis Health therapists work with patients to identify safe, practical, and realistic objectives that will best improve their quality of life.   

Physical Therapy Helps Seniors

Family & Caregivers

Doing in-home therapy also gives therapists a chance to learn about the patient from their spouse and family. This gives them a better idea of the patient’s abilities before the accident. For example, were they able to walk to the corner store? Were they able to reach down and tie their shoes? The family’s input helps therapists set goals that will make the patient free and functional as possible.  

How Physical Therapy Helps Seniors Improve

In-home physical therapy helps seniors improve the five components of physical fitness: strength, flexibility, coordination, endurance, and range of motion. Each one overlaps, so therapists try to combine as many as they can into their exercises.   

Though they may appear daunting, each one is performed under close supervision. Therapists understand that independence builds as confidence grows. If there is an activity patients cannot do safely, therapists guide them step-by-step until they can. Once they trust their abilities, it becomes easier to progress. 

Physical Therapy Helps Seniors Increase Their Strength

Strong muscles are essential for basic movement. They keep people stable while moving around throughout the day. Therapists have a simple set of exercises for each section of the body that can be performed standing or sitting. In-home therapists always have lots of gadgets as well, to add resistance and make work outs more effective. They may start seniors with a simple leg kick or seated march, then add an ankle weight or elastic band to challenge patients a little further.   

Physical Therapy Extends Range of Motion

Joints have a normal distance and direction they are supposed to move. If the therapist discovers a limitation, they will look for gentle ways to reduce it. This may include:  

  1. Stretching. Stretching keeps muscles long, lean, and flexible. Short, tight muscles prevent people from reaching or walking as well as they should.   
  2. Joint Mobilization. The therapist slowly guides the joint through its full range of motion, which reduces stiffness.  
  3. Traction. Increases the space between joints, so people can move more freely.  

Physical Therapy Helps Seniors

Physical Therapy Enhances Flexibility

Flexible joints make it easy for seniors to maintain good posture. In most cases, a basic stretching program keeps muscles elastic. Therapists prefer simple exercises whenever possible because it is easy for seniors to continue them on their own.   

Physical Therapy Helps Seniors Increase Coordination

Movement is less difficult when muscles work together. With this in mind, therapists look for activities that stimulate several muscle groups. Games, such as catch or cornhole, are some of their favorites. They might also ask seniors to tap colored targets on the floor or walk in a certain pattern.  

Physical Therapy Helps Seniors Boost Endurance

Endurance exercises are a simple way for seniors to improve stamina and perform a wider range of activities. Therapists normally ask patients to do longer repetitions of familiar actions, like walking, but anything that increases the heart rate will do. Even seniors who have trouble standing can participate. However, to prevent overstraining, therapists always monitor the patient’s vitals during workout sessions.   

Physical Therapy Helps Seniors

Benefits of Physical Therapy at Home

In-home physical therapy helps seniors focus on the obstacles they face day-to-day. Perhaps they are having trouble getting upstairs or showering. Once they see what they are struggling with, therapists can tailor their plan to fit the patient’s needs. Seniors are also more likely to push themselves when they can measure progress in practical terms.  

Physical Therapy Helps Seniors Stay Independent

Parentis Health has seen firsthand the wonders of in-home physical therapy. In one case, a therapist treated a patient who had been in a car accident and, as a result, could no longer bear weight on either side of his body. His condition was so bad, he was forced to give up living on his own and move in with his family.   

Our therapist began by evaluating how painful it was for him to sit and stand. Though he could not put weight on his ankle (it was in a cast), she devised a way to keep his hips and knees strong. They also helped him build up his arm muscles, so he could use a walker. He suffered back pain as well, which our therapist minimized through massages and careful stretching.   

Physical Therapy Helps Seniors

Importance of Independence

Finally, in the end, our patient was able to return home. Though he still needed assistance, living on his own was important to his well-being. Like all seniors, remaining in control of daily life gave him a greater sense of purpose and self-esteem.   

Looking after oneself seems a small accomplishment, but even small tasks can have a huge impact.  

Contact Parentis Health to learn more about in-home physical therapy or one of the many other services we provide to seniors looking to live life on their own terms. 

Brooke McFerren is a Physical Therapist Assistant who works with older adults in Southern California. Through her personal approach to therapy, she has helped countless seniors remain strong, active, and independent during their advancing years.

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