October 30, 2020
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How Geriatric Physical Therapy Benefits Aging Parents

How can you tell if your parents need Geriatric Physical Therapy (PT)?

The most common way physical therapy is prescribed is after an injury or hospitalization.

Did mom fall and break a bone? Get sick and spend 2 weeks in bed at the hospital? Is she now very weak and unsteady with her movement?

At this time it is obvious that therapy is needed. And extensive therapy may be required to return to function. 

Today, we'll talk about how geriatric physical therapy can benefit your aging parents the most.


Our bodies degenerate over time.

As we grow older, we become more susceptible to frailties, conditions, and other age-related conditions.

Most of the time or limbs, arms, and hands suffer the brunt. It makes them weak and prone to injuries. Think arthritis, osteoporosis, joint issues, balance, and even incontinence.

Geriatric physical therapy becomes all the more important as people we age.

It's specifically targetted to help improve mobility and flexibility. Therapy also helps reduce pain, inflammation, and other potential challenges for the elderly.

Age-related diseases are among the biggest challenges of taking care of the elderly. That's why we also need to focus on their physical well-being, flexibility, and mobility.

This way it will minimize any health risk that can complicate keeping mom safe at home.


There are four types of physical therapy dedicated towards the elderly.

  1. Geriatric Physical Therapy - Puts emphasis on aging adults. This is focused on treating conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, joint replacement, and balance disorders. These treatments are designed to alleviate pain, restore and improve mobility, and increase fitness levels in seniors.
  2. Orthopedic Physical Therapy - This is focused on the musculoskeletal system and is designed for those who need recovery from orthopedic surgeries. Its ultimate goal is to restore functions to muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments.
  3. Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy - This is designed specifically for the elderly who recently suffered a heart attack. It is also for those who have cardiovascular or pulmonary conditions. The goal is to help the patient increase mobility, endurance, and functional independence.
  4. Neurological Physical Therapy - This is focused on the brain and body. Those who suffer from neurological conditions like Alzheimer's disease, ALS, and Parkinson's' disease benefit most from this. People who have gone through brain injury also benefit from this. The goal is to help them adapt to visual, mobility, balance, and muscle loss impairments.


Some things are out of our control and we have to roll with the punches.

But there are also many risk factors that can be identified beforehand and specifically addressed to reduce the risk of future falls and injury or hospitalization.

What should you look for to know if your family is at increased risk? There are 3 things to look for when deciding if someone is at increased risk of falls. 

  1. Strength
  2. Gait Speed
  3. Balance

First, their strength, specifically quadriceps strength.

This is the large muscle on top of your thigh. It is the largest power generator for standing and is a stabilizer when walking.

A healthy aging adult should have the strength to stand from a chair without using their arms to assist.

If you notice mom is now rocking before standing or using her arms to begin standing, this is a sign of decreased strength and increases the likelihood of future fall and injury.

The second sign to look for is decreased gait speed.

This means she is walking more slowly than normal. There can be lots of reasons for this.

But decreasing gait speed is a good indicator of future falls. Slower speeds show decreased steadiness and confidence when walking.

The third is decreased balance.

Identifying declining balance early can be difficult at home. It is often not noticed until the result is a fall or a series of falls.

Look for increased veering when walking (not staying in a straight line), cruising (touching the backs of chairs, walls, or furniture for support when walking around the room), or a wider than normal stance at rest (look for feet just wider than shoulder-width or shoulder width with one foot more forward than the other). 

If you notice any of these changes, it is a good idea to go see a physical therapist. Depending on direct access in your state, this may require a referral from your doctor. Call your local physical therapy office and they will be able to tell you if a referral is necessary. And how to schedule the appointment.

An evaluation by a licensed physical therapist should assess each of the three factors listed above.

Full disclosure, I am a Doctor of Physical Therapy and believe that most PTs are pretty great.

This evaluation will help identify if your loved one is at increased risk of falls. If the answer is yes, at least we identified a potential problem before it became a much bigger and more costly injury. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Changes in strength, gait speed and balance are normal parts of aging.

This is true, but physical therapy along with a home wellness program can reverse some losses caused by decreased activity and exercise over the years.

And slow down future declines. After all limited mobility is the number one reason people are no longer able to live independently in their homes.

The longer mom can keep up her strength, speed, and balance, the longer she can live where she wants to live with limited assistance. Let's help mom stay independent, active, and living her best life!

That's all for now. Take care, be safe and have a great day!


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