Too often, the potential of physical therapy for older adults is not fully understood. Some people might assume that it is simply another thing that older adults can try but that there are not likely to be any significant improvements as a result. However, this is not the case. Physical therapy can be life-changing for older adults, allowing them to return to or continue leading an independent life.
Understanding the Importance of Physical Therapy
First, family members and caregivers should understand why this is so important and how it can enhance the lives of older adults. Physical therapy can help in rehabilitation after an accident or following an incident like a stroke. However, it can also be preventative in nature. One of the places where this is most apparent is in preventing falls, which are a serious danger for seniors. Not only do they cause injuries themselves but they can lead to an overall health decline. By balancing training exercises, they are one of the best tools for preventing falls. Even seniors who are in good shape physically and who exercise regularly can benefit specifically from balance training. Aside from fall prevention, physical therapy has a number of other benefits including:
- Reducing pain
- Reducing the need for medication
- Increasing the likelihood of being able to live independently
- Recovery from accidents and prevention of future injury
- Improvement in mood and overall psychological wellbeing
Attending Appointments and Tracking Progress
One of the main ways family members and caregivers can help is by making sure the person gets to all of their appointments. Another is by tracking or helping them track their progress. This can be motivating for the individual, who can see their progress at a glance, and useful for the medical professional who is designing the exercises. Family members or caregivers can also make sure that the person is completing the exercises and is not having significant or unexpected difficulties with them.
Providing the Right Environment
Even while doing exercises to make physical movement easier, older adults may still appreciate a home environment that does not present substantial hazards or difficulties in getting around. Alterations such as bars in the bathroom by the toilet and in the shower can make the bathroom safer. Good lighting in the kitchen and cabinet arrangements that do not require them to constantly bend over and dig in the back of cupboards to find pots and pans can also help. One of the biggest challenges for many seniors can be stairs, and they might assume that even with good medical care, they will have to move out of their home if it is two or more stories. However, one option is a lift. Many people might assume that this is an extravagance, but domestic lifts can be installed in most types of homes without spending too much money.
Support and Participation
Caregivers and family members can also help with seniors’ motivation by encouraging them to do their physical therapy and by participating in the exercises themselves. An older adult who has been told they would benefit from a daily walk might be more likely to do so if invited to join a child or grandchild in the activity than being nagged to do so on their own. Furthermore, there is evidence that this type of physical activity benefits caregivers as well. It’s also important to recognize that seniors may experience difficulty, pain, and frustration in completing some of the exercises assigned to them. This can be discouraging. Having good communication with medical professionals about the difficulty level to be expected in completing the assigned exercises can help in assessing whether the challenges encountered are normal or an indication that the plan might need some alteration.
*All individuals are unique. Your results can and will vary.
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Above all, family members and caregivers of seniors who are engaged in physical therapy should think of themselves as their advocates. This can mean many different things depending on the situation. Medical professionals may be able to provide additional information and perspectives. With the older adult, they can help in providing a routine that makes it easy to fit the therapy in. They can also offer encouragement and an understanding ear when the process becomes difficult. This is a treatment that has the potential to improve not only the quality of life of the senior but also of the family members who wish to spend more time with them.