How Does Physical Therapy Help the Elderly?


We're so proud of our clinical team here at Seating Matters.  One member sometimes flies under the radar a little so today we are shining the spotlight on our very own Dr Elizabeth Tierney, Doctor of Physical Therapy, as we celebrate World Physical Therapy Day, 8th September 2016.


'Adding Life to Years'



Q&A with Dr ELizabeth Tierney, Physical Therapist, Seating Matters






Tell us a bit about your background in physical therapy.

I studied at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse New York where I trained for 3 years in outpatient physical therapy, acute care, in nursing homes and with children.


When did you know you wanted to become a physical therapist?

I chose to become a physical therapist after experiencing physical therapy as a patient myself when I was younger.  I really enjoyed the environment that I was in, everybody was very active, upbeat and outgoing and I could see very easily the results they were achieving with their patients and myself, and the effect that the PT had on all of the patients around them.


Describe how you apply physical therapy through your role in Seating Matters?

One of the reasons why I love working with Seating Matters is because I have seen first hand the benefits of what a chair can do for a patient who needs one.  In my experience in the hospital I worked with many patients who had suffered a stroke or a traumatic brain injury or a spinal cord injury and it always broke my heart because they would want to sit comfortably after a PT session and all we had were standard recliners, that were often not suitable or appropriate for their needs.  The chair wouldn't fit the patient, most often because it was too big for their dimensions and it didn't provide pressure management, or envelop the person whilst seated.  Unfortunatley I saw the development of pressure injuries in patients as a result of this.  It's great to be able to work directly with Seating Matters now to prescribe clinical seating which has been proven to have a positive effect on the wellbeing of the patient, and which has been clinically trialed and proven to reduce pressure injuries.  As a physical therapist also the chairs are fantastic for use with multiple patients as they are so easily adjusted and seat width, seat height, seat depth can be adapted to suit different sizes of patients.  Also the removable arms are fantastic for hoist transfers.  For patients with a bariatric condition, the Bariatric Sorrento has an anterior tilt function as standard to enable the patient to be more independent and assist with stand transfers.  This will help them in the long run to develop strength to rise on their own from the chair without the assistance of a PT or OT, or caregiver.


It’s #WorldPTDay on 8th September.  The theme is ‘Adding Life to Years.’  How does physical therapy do that?

As physical therapists or physiotherapists, we really add life to years of our patients through our work.  Of course we work a lot with moving and handling and safe transfers from chair to bed, bed to chair for example, but we also work with the wider team of clinicians and the family members, to find the best equipment required that their patient or loved one needs to help them remain as independent for as long as possible, enhancing their life and enhancing their comfort as they grow older. The right equipment will enable them to carry out functions that are important to them, in a safe way, enhancing their independence.  We work closely with the occupational therapist to find solutions to helping the individuals achieve their goals which can be as simple as sitting upright and reading a book, to more complex tasks such as cooking a meal for themselves.


How can physical therapy keep the elderly safe as they age?

Safety in aging is so important and one of the key themes this year as part of World Physical Therapy Day, is keeping the elderly safe as they get older, reducing falls and injuries from falls, as they lose balance and lose function as age increases.  As a physio we focus very much on balance training to help prevent falls and the injuries which can occur as a result. Unfortunately when an older person falls and breaks a hip or sustains a head injury, they may not survive for more than a few years after this injury, as our ability to heal is harder the older we get.


What is the one piece of advice you would give as a physical therapist to ensure healthier aging?

As a physical therapist, my one reccommendation for healthier aging would be to do yoga.  Yoga helps to slow down the natural stiffening of your joints, keeping you more flexible as you age.  Another important tip (I know I'm only supposed to say one!) is to practice the act of getting down onto the floor, and getting yourself back up again.  This helps build strength and confidence that if you were to sustain a fall and there wasn't something nearby to help you get back up, you would be confident and strong enough to get yourself back up onto your feet.  I would advise getting down onto the floor once a week and getting yourself back up without assistance; that way you will know you are strong enough to protect yourself and get yourself the help you need if you ever were to fall whilst on your own.  


What has been your most memorable moment as a physical therapist?

I once worked with a young boy who had an incomplete spinal cord injury and I was there with him in the hospital just a few days after he had sustained the injury.  As you can imagine he was going through a rollercoaster of emotions and one of his biggest fears was that he wouldn't be able to get out of bed again.  Within a few weeks he was stable enough that we could get him sitting at the edge of the bed and with some assistance we were able to get him into a chair and allow him to sit up for a few hours to interact with his friends and family at eye level rather than having them looking down at him whilst he was laying down in bed all day long.  The smile on his face was something I will never forget.


What do you love most about your job as a physical therapist?

Working as a physical therapist is a very fulfuiling job.  Every day you have the opportunity to change someones life, whether it be helping someone get back to sport after an ankle sprain or as severe as working with someone who has had a spinal cord injury and their whole way of life has changed forever,  you always walk out knowing that you have done your best.  In some way, whether it be a very big way or a very small way you know that you have changed someones life for the better.  That is a wonderful feeling and that's what I love most about my job.



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