It is known that growing older is an inevitable part of life. Many changes happen to a person when they age, and these include decreased bone mass density, decreased muscle strength, increased overall body fat, decreased coordination, and reduced joint mobility. An older person is also more likely to suffer from heart diseases, lung diseases, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and arthritis.

With these changes in the body, the older population is more likely to experience a change in the way they move. This can then cause restrictions with their activities of daily living, resulting in a change in their lifestyle and possibly their living arrangement. 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.

This, however, is not a losing battle. While there are currently no known means of reversing or stopping the process of aging, physiotherapy can help to decrease the negative effects that it has on the way we move. Experienced physiotherapists are trained to skilfully assess an individual’s physical and other emotional or psychological factors that are causing changes to the way people move.

From the assessment, they develop a rehabilitative plan to improve on any pain that can potentially restrict movement and these other factors. These factors are namely joint mobility, strength, balance, coordination, speed, agility, and pain. It has been well documented in research how physiotherapy management helps with these aspects in both the short- and the long-term.

A large part of physiotherapy management is an exercise programme that would be goal-oriented and within the capabilities of the person. These goals could be as simple as getting the ability to get out of bed with minimal assistance in the morning, or as “difficult” as participating in a game of woodball at the community club with their friends without pain.

Unfortunately, there can be times when neither improvement nor maintenance is not possible. This could be due to health reasons where the physical state of the body is no longer capable of allowing the individual to perform even the most fundamental of movements. At this stage, physiotherapists are still able to have an impact by helping the individual and their family to remain comfortable and pain-free, and maintain a sense of dignity with their basic needs. This can be through caregiver training to provide safe assistance, providing and training of equipment such as walking aids to facilitate independent living, and modifying home environment and set up to maximise safety of the patient.

Ultimately, physiotherapists work hand-in-hand with these clients to ensure they remain independent for as long as possible. In the absence of any impairments, physiotherapy management also helps maintain the current status of a person to prevent any potential natural decline in strength, mobility, and balance. Everyone would benefit from a physiotherapy assessment to find out if there is any specific component of their physical health that they can work on to improve on their mobility and function, and prevent any potential catastrophic injuries from falls or accidents.

This post has been written by Physiotherapist Goh Chun Kiat B.Sc.

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