Geriatric Physical Therapy

Deemed a “medical specialty” in 1989, geriatric physical therapy places an emphasis on the care and treatment of aging adults.

Therapists that elect to work within this field focus their time and energy on helping older adults to maintain or achieve an optimal level of physical health while they experience the natural aging process. Areas of focus include – but, are not limited to – joint pain, limited range of motion, bone health, and the effects of certain conditions associated with aging, such as arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.

If you are interested in a rewarding career in physical therapy, continue reading to learn about the geriatric specialty.

Purpose of Geriatric Physical Therapy

The purpose of geriatric physical therapy is to help older adults build strength in the body, improve balance, increase confidence levels, maintain their independence for as long as possible, remain physically active, and optimize their physical and psychological well-being.

The inability to remain independent and falls are among the two most complicated issues impacting seniors today.

According to information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one-third of all individuals 65 and older experience falls each year.

These falls lead to broken bones, hip fractures, hospitalizations, and even death. Geriatric physical therapists aid in fall prevention and work with those that have suffered a fall for their best chance of recovery.

Geriatric Physical Therapy Education

If you have a desire to enter into the field of geriatric physical therapy, you will typically be required to obtain either a master’s degree or a doctorate. Basic areas of interest – academically speaking – include growth and development, anatomy and physiology, psychology, and various therapeutic-based techniques.

Each state may have certain types of certification requirements for the field. Additional coursework and hands-on/clinical requirements may need to be met in order to practice in geriatrics.


The number is senior adults has increased dramatically over the past couple of years. As a result, the demand for geriatric physical therapists is very high. By 2016, jobs in this field are projected to increase by 28%.

To date, the average yearly salary ranks near $87,000.

This is expected to increase as the senior population continues to expand.

Geriatric Physical Therapist working with older adults

The Work

Geriatric physical therapists work with older adults on an individual basis. They evaluate their unique capabilities and then create a specific type of treatment program, based on their individual needs.

This program will include education and information, various types of exercises, and other components that place an emphasis on wellness.

Additionally, a geriatric physical therapist will often work closely with other types of healthcare personnel that works with their patient in order to coordinate the best type of care for that individual.

As a geriatric physical therapist, you will help your patients understand that the bodily changes that occur as we age can easily be misunderstood and may lead to many limitations; however, it does not need to be this way.

You will help your patients regain any type of abilities that they have lost through the years, and even help them gain new abilities that may offer increased range of motion, strength, and general mobility.

You may then create a special exercise program for your patients that will help prevent disability and restore functions. This program will also help your patient in:

  • Experiencing lower levels of pain
  • Improving their sensations in the body
  • Increase their level of physical fitness
  • Integrating adaptations within the home to ensure accessibility and safety
  • Learning how to use assistive devices
  • Learning to improve the functionality of muscles and joints
  • Improve balance
  • Improve range of motion
  • Optimize strength
  • Improve flexibility
  • Improve coordination
  • Increase endurance levels
  • Teach them how to position themselves, walk, and to transfer themselves so that they may maintain their independence for as long as possible

Treatment of Conditions

There are several medical conditions that are known to negatively impact older adults.

These include – but, are not limited to – arthritis, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, incontinence, cardiac diseases, Parkinson’s disease, and joint replacements.

As a geriatric physical therapist, you will work with patients with these conditions to help them work through the symptoms. Not all of these conditions may be completely resolved; however, symptoms may be controlled by exercise and other wellness techniques. Additionally, functionality and mobility may be accomplished through physical therapy.

If you have an interest in a rewarding career in physical therapy, you may enjoy working with older adults and helping them transition through the various stages of their life. To join a network of like-minded professionals, contact us today.

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