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’s 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, 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.
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. They will then use this information to design a tailor made programme.
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: