Pratt: Physical therapy needs grow for aging Boomers

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Studies project the need for physical therapy will increase by 30 percent in the next 10 years.

Several factors contribute to this demand including an aging population, increase of chronic conditions and advances in technology.

Aging baby boomers are staying more active later in life than their counterparts of previous generations and are more vulnerable to chronic and debilitating conditions that require physical therapist services.

As people age, they tend to lose flexibility, strength and often their balance, so maintaining the desired level of fitness becomes increasingly challenging.  Loss of these functions could lead to a fall that could cause serious injury. Physical therapy helps improve these functions.

Osteoporosis, which is a progressive bone disease characterized by a decrease in bone mass and density, can lead to an increased risk for fractures.

This in combination with decreased reaction times, decreased coordination, and impaired neuromuscular function can often lead to a debilitating fall.

Physical therapy and a regular exercise program help to slow down the progression of these impairments and help control the sometimes painful side effects of these illnesses.

For example, strength training and regular exercise provided in physical therapy can help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis such as stiffness and pain.

Physical therapy also teaches therapeutic methods to relieve discomfort through both manual techniques and activity modifications.

So, as baby boomers seek to redefine what it means to be ‘old,’ physical therapists will play a critical role in helping them improve movement, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability.

Chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, have also become more prevalent in recent years. Patients with these conditions can benefit by maintaining their mobility and managing the effects of these chronic conditions though physical therapy.

Advances in medical technology have increased the use of outpatient surgery to treat a variety of injuries and illnesses. Medical and technological developments also are expected to permit a greater percentage of trauma victims and newborns with birth defects to survive, creating additional demand for rehabilitative care.

Physical therapists will continue to play an important role in helping these patients recover more quickly and successfully from surgery.

In conclusion, physical therapy can help patients retain their independence, whether they are managing a long-term illness or just want to improve their general health and mobility.

To respond to this growing demand for therapy services, St. James Parish Hospital’s Rehabilitation Department will be extending hours — 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — three days a week starting in April.

We hope that patients will enjoy the benefit of more flexible scheduling. School-age and working patients now have the option to make appointments before or after daily commitments.

We are proud to continue working toward our vision to be the community’s first choice for health care needs.

Mary Ellen Pratt is St. James Parish Hospital CEO. She can be reached at