One thing that we can be sure of in life is that our body will go through a number of physical changes as we get older.
Some of the most common include loss of muscle strength and poorer coordination, which in turn makes us more susceptible to falls and subsequent injuries.
According to the Clinical Excellence Commission, eight out of 10 falls that result in the hospitalisation of elderly people in Australia occur either in the home or in elderly care facilities. The commission also confirms that hip fractures are the most serious falls-related injury among the elderly, with 15% dying in hospital and one-third not surviving from the damage caused by the injury beyond a year. For many elderly people, physiotherapy provides an effective way of living and enjoying the benefits of an independent lifestyle for as long as possible.
Australia’s healthcare system is supported by a combination of services funded by the Government (both State and Commonwealth) and private health insurance. Indeed, the public side of the system that we are accustomed to in Australia is not unlike its Medicare and Medicaid counterpart in the U.S. In both countries, physiotherapy is just one of the strands of healthcare provisions that can only be accessed through the private sector.
Despite the additional costs involved, physiotherapy for the elderly is best viewed as an essential element of a healthy lifestyle as opposed to a modern-day luxury that most of us can do without. What follows is a breakdown of the main ways in which physiotherapy can help ageing relatives to recover from an accident or simply stay fit and independent for as long as possible.
Counteracting natural age-related changes
The longer we can encourage our elderly relatives to remain physically active, the longer they will benefit from an independent lifestyle. There’s no way of getting away from the fact that as we get older certain things begin to happen to our bodies. We lose bone density and muscle strength, our levels of body fat increase, our coordination becomes poorer and our joints begin to stiffen.
Having said that, we do have a certain amount of control over the rate at which we experience this decline and the way in which it interferes (or not) in our day-to-day lives. In fact, medical research suggests that at least half of the age-related changes to muscles, bones and joints are caused by disuse, which is why exercise is so important.
Physiotherapists are trained to carefully and safely guide elderly patients through a series of exercises designed to help them with their specific needs. Being able to exercise at home between physiotherapy sessions gives elderly patients the confidence they need to take matters into their own hands and restores a little of that independent feeling that’s so important to staying young and full of life.
At myPhysioSA, we offer various classes that are suitable including balance classes, gentle Pilates classes and group fitness classes in our Fitness Studios.
Internal protection and strength
Physiotherapy can also help the elderly improve cardiovascular circulation by strengthening cardiac output and decreasing blood pressure. This, in turn, helps to protect them from developing cardiovascular diseases and minimises the threat of congestive heart failure.
Diabetes can be another worrying problem for the ageing population. Indeed, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost one in five people aged 75 and over, the equivalent of 18.4%, were suffering from diabetes in 2014-15. Exercise can help to reduce the risk of developing diabetes, as it enhances the body’s ability to effectively produce and use insulin. It also helps to control blood sugar levels in those patients who already suffer from the condition. Our Exercise Physiologists and Physiotherapists can give safe and effective physical activity programs and advice.
Recuperation after an accident
On a final note, most elderly people are concerned about not feeling as quick and steady on their feet as they used to and of finding it difficult to cope with stairs. As muscles weaken, coordination depletes and joints stiffen, our elderly relatives are at a greater risk of experiencing a fall that could lead to a painful fracture and months of recovery. The Australian and New Zealand Falls Prevention Society predicts that by 2050 around 23% (8.1 million people) aged over 65 will suffer the consequences of a fall.
Physiotherapy can ensure a full and effective recovery from most types of accidents by gradually helping patients regain the physical strength and mobility they once had. The exercises they learn to practice in each session can also go a long way to preventing other falls and accidents in the future.
So if you are concerned about the wellbeing of your elderly relative, or if you’re worried that they seem to be withering away, that they’ve lost the sense of life and energy they once had, it might be time to consider treating them to a little professional care.
Provided by Guest Blogger Lucy Wyndham for myPhysioSA