Aging is not a disease. Scientists define it as a progressive and generalized impairment of function resulting in the loss of adaptive response to stress and increased risk of age related diseases. Most developed world countries, including the USA, have accepted the chronological age of 65 years as a definition of elderly or older person. The number of Americans aged 65 years and older continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. Elly Kleinman, Americare Companies President, and CEO says that between 2015 and 2030, the number of older persons worldwide is set to increase from 901 million to more than 1.4 billion. By 2030, the number of people aged 60 and above will exceed the number of young people aged 15 to 24.
As the baby boom generation ages, it is predicted that 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older by the year 2030. The most rapidly growing segment of the US population is the category aged 85 and older. Kleinman estimates that this group will increase from 2% to 5% over the next 50 years. In the United States, life expectancy for a person reaching 65 years is 18 years, and for a person reaching 85 years, the life expectancy is 6 to 7 years.
The study of physical and psychological changes which are incident to old age is called gerontology. Geriatrics is the branch of internal medicine that focuses on health care of the elderly. It aims mainly to promote health and to diagnose, prevent and treat diseases and disabilities in older adults. Geriatric physical therapy is an area of specialization that requires a specific set of advanced skills and knowledge that addresses the aging process. The primary goal of geriatric physical therapy is to prevent, maintain or rehabilitate an impairment or functional limitation, which is accomplished with the application of evidence-based scientific principles.
Caring for older patients takes time. The presence of concurrent chronic conditions, the use of multiple medications and atypical presentations of illness in this population make clinical decision making more complex and time-consuming. Physical therapy can restore or increase strength, range of motion, flexibility, coordination, and endurance, as well as reduce pain. Another important role is to retrain the patient to do everyday tasks. Geriatric physical therapy enables older adults to enjoy a longer life by living it more independently and with less pain.