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What Is Geriatric Physical Therapy?

By M. West
Updated May 17, 2024
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Geriatric physical therapy is a medical specialty area of physical therapy focusing on treatment for medical conditions experienced by older adults. Medical disorders commonly receiving this therapy include osteoporosis, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. Cancer and joint replacements are other diagnoses frequently seen in this area. Goals of therapy include restoring mobility, minimizing pain, and enhancing fitness.

Older adults often have maladies resulting in impaired balance, strength, and mobility, all of which can be assisted and improved by geriatric physical therapy. In the long run, this will help to improve independence of the patient. Physical therapy for the elderly can also assist in avoiding falls, which is critically important in this age group since such injuries can sometimes be fatal. Geriatric rehabilitation can not only improve function and protect from injury, but can increase confidence and help patients remain active and involved in life.

Geriatric physical therapy can take different forms, one of which is exercise. Exercise is characterized as any type of physical activity that is aside from what the patient normally does during their daily routine. The goals of this modality are to maintain and enhance coordination, flexibility, and physical endurance, while the achievement of these goals will improve mobility and reduce the risk of falling. Forms may involve stretching, walking, or specific exercises targeting a particular trouble spot in the body. Physical therapists will be careful to tailor the exercise routines to the specific needs of the patient.

Another form of geriatric physical therapy is manual therapy, which involves manipulating and massaging the patients’ joints and muscles. The objectives of manual therapy are to increase circulation, as well as to restore mobility lost as a result of injury or disease. An added benefit of this intervention is pain reduction.

Education is the third form of geriatric physical therapy and is vital for its short- and long-term success and effectiveness. In this area, patients are instructed in safer or more advantageous methods of performing their daily activities. This may involve teaching them how to use assistive devices or training in procedures to prevent further injuries.

A subcategory of educational physical therapy for the elderly is the area of transfer training. This area involves instruction in tasks, such as transferring from a wheelchair to a bed or moving from a wheelchair to a tub bench. Enabling a patient to become more independent in such activities can not only lighten the load of the caregiver, but also improve the quality of life for the patient.

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