Resident-Working-On-Standing-Bars with Therapist at Rehabilitation Center

What is the Difference Between Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy?

Taking care of your physical health is important at any age. Both the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend that people engage in physical activity daily, anywhere from 10 minutes per day to two hours, depending on your age, health and fitness goals. Physical activity can help your mind and body in many ways, including:

  • Creating a positive self-image
  • Improving motor skills
  • Enhancing the ability to learn and make decisions
  • Lowering the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer
  • Maintaining a positive mood
  • Improving balance and strength, which helps to prevent injuries

In general, maintaining a regular fitness routine is one of the factors that is most important for well-being in older age. It can help seniors improve their ability to stay focused and can allow them to lead a higher-quality life with more energy. If you are recovering from an illness, rehabilitating after surgery or just want to live a healthier lifestyle, it is important to know your options for exercise programs, as well as support and therapy services.

What is the Difference Between Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy?

The two types of therapies most often offered to senior patients are physical therapy and occupational therapy. These therapies are used individually, and sometimes together, to help patients improve their physical well-being. So, what is the difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy?

Physical Therapy (PT)

This treatment focuses on helping the patient to improve his or her functioning, no matter if the limitations are related to joints, muscles, nerves or bones. In most cases, a person receiving PT has had an injury, has reduced functioning due to wear and tear or has reduced functioning as part of the natural aging process. Physical therapy in the elderly most often focuses on issues such as lack of endurance, difficulty walking, balance issues, pain and reduced muscle strength. In working with seniors, physical therapists create programs to rebuild and retain strength and enhance mobility. According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), physical therapy can help seniors:

  • Restore and increase strength
  • Increase mobility
  • Enhance range of motion
  • Improve flexibility
  • Increase endurance
  • Improve coordination

Accomplishing these improvements to physical health allows seniors to remain mobile and independent for longer and creates opportunities for them to engage in activities they enjoy.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

Occupational therapy is different from physical therapy. OT focuses on assisting the patient to achieve independence in daily life. Specifically with geriatric patients, occupational therapy is designed around improving activities of daily living, such as the ability to maintain hygiene, to dress oneself and to bathe. So, what does an occupational therapist do for the elderly?

  • Identify problem areas and make recommendations for improvement
  • Perform functional assessments and advise on care plans
  • Teach patients to use equipment, such as rolling walkers and adaptive eating utensils, to help patients meet their goals
  • Help patients improve their basic motor skills and fine motor skills, their range of motion and their dexterity
  • Teach patients exercise and rehabilitation techniques with the goal of improving the patient’s ability to perform daily tasks

Why is it Important for an Elderly Person to Maintain Independence?

Maintaining or gaining independence is almost always part of the goal during recovery after surgery or illness, or as part of a healthy routine as you age. Why is it important for an elderly person to maintain independence? First and foremost, independence gives people a sense of purpose. It allows aging seniors to contribute to the lives of their friends and neighbors, participate in activities they have always enjoyed and continue to have a sense of achievement. In order to help an elderly person to maintain independence, caregivers should:

  • Support senior loved ones in having a social life
  • Allow them to take part in deciding on daily activities and tasks
  • Encourage them to exercise
  • Help them keep their brains busy
  • Remind them to keep safety first in their minds

What Factors are Most Important for Well-being in Older Age?

Living a long life can bring opportunities, both for the senior and for their family. There is time for learning new activities, expanding education, pursuing a new career or exploring a new passion. One way to put yourself and your loved ones on a path to enjoying your golden years to the fullest is by making efforts toward living a healthy lifestyle and caring for your mental, physical and emotional well-being.

While some people are impacted by genetics, creating healthy behaviors is one of the factors that is most important for well-being in older age. In order to stay healthy, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that people partake in some form of strength training to maintain muscle mass and support mobility and that they eat a healthy diet to reverse frailty and preserve cognitive function. The WHO also states that a supportive environment is a key factor in supporting elderly adults as they pursue their health goals.

Planning a Life You Love

In order to gain the greatest health benefits and enjoy your senior years with a full social life, it is important to select the right support team and the right environment. At Bethany Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, we truly understand why it is important for an elderly person to maintain independence. We want to support you on your journey to better health and assist you in creating a life you love.

From our therapy gym to our in-house chef, our entire community is designed to support you and your needs. Contact us today to learn more.