The Future of Physical Therapy for Baby Boomers
November 6, 2017
Today there are 78 million American baby boomers – persons between ages 35 and 53, making up 1/3 of US population. All of these people will soon be considered the elderly of our nation.
From a Physical Therapy (PT) perspective, observers predict that this new cohort of elders, the aging boomers, will crave vigor, vitality, and extended life. In addition to this evolving demographic phenomenon, the portion of the American population currently 65 and older is growing rapidly and the group 85 years and older is the largest growing segment of our population. The irony of medical successes is that they have produce many long-lived elders who struggle with the very problems of long-term disability, such as cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s, that our health care system is ill-prepared to handle. This results in many elders needing rehabilitative services.
Physical Therapy And An Aging Population
The good news is that through proper preventive interventions, we have the potential to produce healthier aging at a lower cost. Physical Therapy, as a profession, is poised to help meet the needs of the aging population. Many PTs have done clinical interventions toward prevention of injury, disease and disability.
In our Rehab Services Department, the elderly make up the largest proportion of our patients. Most of the patients are scheduled to see a PT because of the musculoskeletal symptoms, or patients are referred to PT after a quick screen by a primary provider upon their first visit. The PTs then play a major role in preventing the disabilities that result from any of the insidious onset of pain or restriction. Evaluation and subsequent re-evaluations and interventions for the limitations identified could preserve health and function. For example, preventive strengthening and conditioning exercises, positioning, joint and tissue mobilization, and the many other treatments that could be employed all affect functional capabilities, especially in an aged population. Preventing disabilities that can result from pathologic processes greatly improves the level of function and the quality of life. Certainly some changes that occur in aging need not be inevitable.
Common Ailments Which Benefit From Physical Therapy
PT can keep posture intact with specific exercises revolving around balance and stability. Extension exercises strengthen muscles and allow flexibility of movement. Weight-bearing exercises can help prevent osteoporosis altogether.
Patient quality of life and comfort can be improved with PT. After surgery, swelling is reduced through movement therapy and range of motion is improved (or possibly restored) as they heal.
The robotic movements associated with Parkinson’s can be minimized with flexibility exercises. PTs can also contribute to falls-prevention.
Arthritis and/or Heart Disease
PTs work with patient’s issues in staying fit and with goals of obtaining a maximal level of independence. An elderly patient who is struggling with movement from their arthritis may be dealing with the struggle of rising from a bed, keeping balanced while dressing or attempting to get to the bathroom. PTs help restore flexibility and endurance for day-to-day tasks, as well as build strength and coordination.
Physical Therapy And Family
A PT often works with an elderly patient’s family as well. Family members can provide encouragement and support to continue home exercises and help with them as needed. Sometimes, support from a family member can be as simple as inviting the patient to go for a walk.
PTs work to balance the therapy goals with the elderly patient’s desire for independence and dignity, as well as work with family or caregivers to provide the right support at home. Thus, setting realistic goals for treatment is important to help patients live their lives independently.