Ageing is a complex process of changes to an individual’s body, mind and ability to participate in everyday activities and roles. Lifespan are increasing and older adults are living with multiple co-morbidities.
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 to illness such as heart disease, higher 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.
Physiotherapist assess and set specific goals to address the areas that are difficult for patients. They use this information to design a tailormade program. Exercise treatments include flexibility work, strengthening exercises, endurance training, and functional work such as stairs practice, getting up from a chair and getting up from the floor. The exercise program respects the principle: maximum effect - minimal risk, given the diminished cardiac reserve and risk of hypertension, tachycardia, coronary ischemic accidents. The program includes muscle exercises compatible with a charge of 75% from the capacity of the cardiovascular system, following the rule “little and often” using sequences of harmonious, rhythmic and comprehensible movements, close to the natural movements of elderly people.
A physiotherapist also gives advice on gait correction and the safe use of walking aids such as a stick, crutches or a frame.
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.
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