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Physical Therapists' Health Promotion Activities for Older Adults

Healey, William E. PT, EdD, GCS1; Broers, K. Blaire PT, DPT2; Nelson, Julie PT, DPT3; Huber, Gail PT, PhD1

Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy: January/March 2012 - Volume 35 - Issue 1 - p 35–48
doi: 10.1519/JPT.0b013e318220d1f0
Case Report

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.

1Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Science, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois.

2Lakeshore Sports Physical Therapy, Chicago, Illinois.

3Department of Rehabilitation Services, Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, Illinois.

Address correspondence to: William E. Healey, PT, EdD, GCS, Department of Physical Therapy & Human Movement Sciences, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, 645 N Michigan Ave, Ste 1100, Chicago, IL 60611 (

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Copyright © 2012 the Section on Geriatrics of the American Physical Therapy Association
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