Senior Health: Physical and occupational therapy can help seniors


Physical and occupational therapy can have wide-ranging benefits for seniors.

Let us start with occupational therapy, as I believe many do not realize when it should or could be used and the many benefits that can be realized.

OT helps patients having difficulties with activities of daily living. Such activities include basic tasks as simple as dressing, bathing, eating and toileting. Occupational Therapy can help patients overcome physical difficulties with cleaning the house, help promote safe moving within the home or community and improve abilities to complete shopping and meal preparation.

OT helps people recover from shoulder, elbow or hand surgeries. OT treatments are customized to the needs of the patient. The therapist performs hands-on treatments and teaches seniors to rebuild the skills they may have lost due to weakness or stiffness, due to a general decline in health condition or after an injury, all of which can negatively affect a person’s physical ability. An occupational therapist can also help by making a patient aware of some tools that can be used to make daily tasks easier; such as a long shoehorn, or elastic shoelaces or specialized eating utensils that are easier to grasp and control.

Because of treatment, seniors generally have improved their abilities to reduce upper body and upper extremity pain, and have improved their endurance and strength to successfully complete tasks that are lost due to age-related weakness. By promoting movement in the home and community, seniors have shown satisfactory improvements in their health.

Physical therapy services are also a very important component of health care for seniors. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in its 2018 publication “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,” says “80% of adults do not meet recommended guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity.” The publication also reports that as many as half of American adults have one or more preventable chronic diseases which are “favorably influenced by regular physical activity.”

Physical therapists understand how chronic knee, hip, back and/or neck pain, general weakness, joint stiffness, balance problems, fear of falling and other movement problems can limit physical activity. Pain and weakness limit a person’s ability to pursue exercise on an ongoing basis. After making a physical therapy diagnosis, treatment involves hands-on care, safe exercise and personalized education to help seniors improve overall mobility and balance, reduce the risk for falls as well as reduce chronic pain that prevents seniors from maintaining regular physical activity.

Physical therapy treatment helps to improve mobility, and balance, help improve overall strength, reduce longstanding pain or build knowledge in safe exercising in the presence of chronic medical conditions. The department at UHS Delaware Valley Hospital is well-equipped and can even care for patients who need assistance to stand while doing their therapy, due to stroke or other brain injury.

Collaboration between both physical and occupational therapists and other healthcare professionals strengthens the health care team taking care of seniors in the communities we serve and is key for optimum success. This type of collaboration has enabled some patients to reduce the need for certain medications while promoting recovery from injury, preventing injuries due to falls and other chronic diseases.

At DVH, these departments also work closely with the Spine Care and Pain Relief Clinic professionals. Working together and with the patient, they formulate a plan to address chronic pain without the use of narcotics.

If physical or occupational therapy is an avenue that you would like to pursue for yourself, a loved one, family member or friend, speak to your provider to see if it would be beneficial for you. Most health insurances require a physician’s (or provider’s) prescription.

UHS Delaware Valley Hospital’s Physical Rehabilitation and Therapy Department is on the hospital campus, at 1 Titus Place in Walton. It is staffed with several doctors of physical therapy, several physical therapy assistants and an occupational therapist. To schedule an appointment or to learn more, call 607-865-2155.

Nathan Moodley is a physical therapist and DPT department manager at UHS Delaware Valley Hospital in Walton.

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