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How Physiotherapy Can Help Older People

Physiotherapy

As we age our body inevitably goes through many physical changes. These natural age related changes include reduced bone density, reduced muscle strength, increased body fat, poorer coordination and stiffer joints. These normal effects of ageing can affect older people.

Mobility and balance and make them more likely to fall and break bones. Older people also become more susceptible illness such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, arthritis and lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. All of this can have a big impact on their daily lives and reduce their independence. For example elderly people often feel that they are not as quick and steady on their feet as they used to be and find that stairs are more difficult. This can then affect their ability to get out and about and lead to reduced independence.

However, we do not have to accept this as an inevitable part of ageing. While physiotherapy cannot stop ageing it can help to reduce the impact that it has on our bodies and our lives. Physiotherapists are trained to identify physical and other factors that prevent people from being as active and independent as they can be, and then they find ways of overcoming them. This makes them ideally placed to help older people stay as active as they can be. In fact physiotherapy has been shown to improve many of the factors associated with ageing including strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility and pain levels. Ultimately physiotherapy has been proven by research to help older adults to maintain their health, well-being, functional ability and independence.

 

Physiotherapy has been shown to improve many of the factors associated with ageing including strength, balance, coordination, and flexibility and pain levels

 

Physiotherapists can provide advice on how to safely exercise so that older people can realise the benefits of exercise. Studies have shown that older adults who engage in regular physical activity gain many benefits including improved balance, strength, coordination, motor control, flexibility, endurance and even memory. Exercise can also help to reduce the risk and impact of illnesses that are more likely to affect older people. Research also shows how effective physiotherapists are at treating and preventing joint problems, balance disorders, risk of falls, strength decline and reducing high blood pressure and obesity.

If you decide that you could benefit from physiotherapy your physiotherapist should start by carrying out a detailed assessment to determine the specific areas that may be having an impact you. This assessment would typically include looking at your strength, range of movement, balance and walking.

Together you and your physiotherapist will set specific goals to help you address the areas that are difficult for you.

Physiotherapy interventions that are proven to be effective for older people include stretching and strengthening exercise programmes and practicing activities that challenge balance. They can also provide equipment such as walking aids to facilitate independent living. Ultimately they will work with you to ensure that you can remain as independent as possible.

Two great resources for older people or people with older friends/relations to consider learning more about are:

  • Falls– Which identifies those with high risk of falling using a simple assessment and outlines what they need to drastically reduce their risk of falling and injury.
  • WalkAide – Helping people with foot drop, spinal injury, stroke and other health issues which hinder mobility.

About falls

 

Could you be at risk of falling?

  1. Have you had a fall in the last year?
  2. Are you taking four or more medications a day?
  3. Do you have Parkinson’s disease or a history of stroke?
  4. Do you feel you have any balance problems?
  5. Are you able to stand up from a chair without using your arms for support?
  6. Are you limiting what you do due to fear of falling?

 

How can physiotherapy help?

A physio will assess your risk of falling based on your health and will develop an activity programme just for you. This will include some exercises to strengthen your legs and improve your balance. They will also discuss options for being active in a way that suits you. Keeping on the move is really important.

Your physio can help with:

  • Improving your balance and strength
  • Education on how to reduce your risk of falling
  • Designing an activity programme to suit your needs
  • Advice on how to make your home safer
  • Teaching you safe ways to get up if you do have a fall
  • Showing you how to keep active
  • Getting you involved in a community-based exercise programme

Some physios offer home visits and they can make sure your home is as safe as possible to reduce your risk of falling. This might include stronger lighting (especially from your bedroom to the bathroom at night) and removing rugs from bare floors because you can slip and fall. Physios can also advise you on suitable footwear and walking aids if you need them.

Exercise is really important for reducing the risk of falls. Lack of exercise leads to poor muscle tone, decreased strength and loss of bone mass – all of these factors can contribute to falls and the severity of injury after a fall. A physiotherapist will be able to advise you on the amount and type of exercise best for you.

How can I prevent falls?

As well as seeing a physio you can also:

  • Exercise regularly – particularly exercises that focus on leg strength and improving your balance.
  • Ask your doctor to check your medicines and see if any of them cause side effects such as dizziness.
  • Have your eyes checked at least once a year.
  • Make your home safer by identifying any hazards that you could trip over. You could also look at adding safety elements like non-slip mats and railings on stairways.

 

  • WalkAide – Helping people with foot drop, spinal injury, stroke and other health issues which hinder mobility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Krishna Mohan Jayswal

BPT, MPT (Neurology)

Consultant Physiotherapist

Suvekchya International Hospital & Research Center Pvt. Ltd., Sitapaila, Kathmandu

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