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Case studies are utilized as a way for students to learn the principles of geriatric assessment including physical, cognitive, social, psychological, and environmental assessments. Goals are to promote wellness, independence and successfully maintaining or improving the quality of life for the patients who we see. As physical therapists we focus on function and mobility performance (gait, balance, transfers). In today’s payment situation, we must be efficient in our ability to perform rapid screens to identify target areas for examination and then intervention. But in the older population we must at the same time be vigilant so that complications from comorbidities, “yellow” or “red” flags, do not escape us.


The core to determining what interventions need to be performed is first performing a comprehensive evaluation and examination. This is necessary for all patients. This chapter is not a guideline about how to perform an evaluation but some special thoughts to consider with older individuals. As we age, the incidence of chronic diseases and wear-and-tear injuries add to the normal aging changes, requiring in-depth questioning and use of functional tests and measures. As people age, it becomes more difficult to adapt to stresses placed on the body, our organ system’s capacity decreases, function decreases, and impairments and disabilities increase. The geriatric physical therapy examination must consider all biopsychosocial realms of the patient both internal and external that may not affect the outcomes in the same way as some younger individuals. The elderly individual who comes to physical therapy is usually dealing with many physical, social, and psychological changes. Environmental factors including housing, home safety, transportation will affect how the older clients’ needs will be addressed. As an example think about the patient seen by a physical therapist who may be going under a great deal of stress and is justifiably concerned about the illness of a spouse or the potential of becoming institutionalized themselves. For treatment techniques taught in physical therapy school, students are often taught in silos, meaning that they learn range of motion (ROM), manual muscle testing (MMT), sensation, transfers, etc, without adequate synthesis of these procedures into older adults. For instance, measuring ROM and performing MMT on fellow students may translate into the students believing that all older adults are not “normal.”

How does the evaluation of a geriatric client differ from a middle-aged adult? The middle-aged patient may be coming to physical therapy for a specific problem, perhaps carpal tunnel. The therapist would try to determine the mechanism of injury and then determine how to prevent further worsening of the condition and how to resolve that specific condition. The therapist would typically not need to worry about many other factors that affect the older adult. The geriatric physical therapist may need to consider that the patient also has osteoarthritis in the contralateral knee and is using a cane in the painful wrist (which ...

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