Physical therapists' health promotion activities for older adults

J Geriatr Phys Ther. 2012 Jan-Mar;35(1):35-48. doi: 10.1519/JPT.0b013e318220d1f0.


Background and purpose: It is not known to what extent and how effectively physical therapists working with older adults are promoting health with their patients. The purpose of this study was to describe what physical therapists in a midwestern urban area do with older adults (65 years and older) for health and wellness promotion in the clinical setting.

Subjects: A total of 65 physical therapists were invited to participate in the study. Of them, 24 respondents met the inclusion criteria and 14 were able to attend 1 of 3 focus group interviews held at the investigators' university location. Participants were female physical therapists mostly in their 30s who worked with older adults greater than 60% of the time in inpatient, outpatient, or home care settings.

Methods: Focus group interviews were tape-recorded and field notes were taken. Data were transcribed, coded individually, and underwent member-checking and peer review to ensure trustworthiness of the study's findings.

Results: Three major themes emerged. First, participants believed health promotion is a part of physical therapist practice. Second, participants described the health promotion benefits of more one-on-one time with patients. Third, these physical therapists acknowledged several factors that impact their delivery of health promotion.

Conclusions: We found that these experienced physical therapists from a variety of practice settings were consistently practicing health promotion while treating older adults. Participants reported the one-on-one time spent that helped build relationships as the main facilitator of practicing health promotion. Although there were no objective measures of the effectiveness of their health-promoting efforts, subjectively all felt confident in their ability to promote health with their older patients.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Promotion / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Patient Compliance / statistics & numerical data
  • Physical Therapists / statistics & numerical data
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / organization & administration
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Program Evaluation
  • Qualitative Research
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States