The Role of a Physical Therapist in Healthy Aging

Related topics: Health & Wellness

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) shares a look at a very important part of the rehabilitation team.

Senior woman with physical therapist

The terms "healthy aging" and "aging well" are used quite often, but people outside the aging services or health care sectors rarely understand the full meaning of these phrases. We'd like to remind you of the value of physical therapy in supporting the health and independence of America's older adults.

In the past, physical therapy was perceived as a reactionary profession; most people believed physical therapists (PTs) only worked with people after they were injured. This misconception overlooks much of the value physical therapists offer the older adult community to keep them safe and independent. PTs are changing their profession to include not only treatment of injuries, but also education on preventive strategies that reduce injuries altogether.

Physical therapists are highly trained health care professionals, with an expertise in movement and exercise. Their skills and knowledge base are essential when dealing with the complexities of aging. Physical therapy training includes assessment, exercise prescription, and progression, all with appropriate monitoring. All these skills can be utilized for older adults before injury happens. Physical therapists can play a key role in the prevention of injury, functional decline, and disability.

Fitness at any age is made up of five key aspects:

  • flexibility
  • strength
  • endurance
  • posture
  • balance

Extensive studies have provided norms for each of these categories. By using these guidelines to determine what is normal for older adults of similar age and gender, physical therapists can explain how a patient's circumstances compare with that of their peers. More importantly, a physical therapist can assess results against important thresholds related to falls, disability, and even mortality. When areas of concern are identified, a PT can prescribe individualized exercises to strengthen key muscles, improve balance and flexibility, and increase overall well-being.

Include PTs in your list of options and resources for aging well. The knowledge and expertise they provide can prevent or reduce issues before they arise, and make it easier for you to stay healthy and independent.

Source: Kele Murdin, PT, MPT of Infinity Rehab in Bothell, WA, for the National Council on Aging (NCOA), a respected national leader and trusted partner to help people aged 60+ meet the challenges of aging. The mission of the NCOA is to improve the lives of millions of older adults, especially those who are struggling. Through innovative community programs and services, online help, and advocacy, NCOA is partnering with nonprofit organizations, government, and business to improve the health and economic security of 10 million older adults by 2030.