As we age, we want to remain as mobile and independent as we can. While it's not always possible for us to "age in place" for a variety of reasons, one thing that can help is safely moving our bodies as much as possible. Working with a geriatric clinical specialist can help older people not only remain at home, but also help them recover from conditions that often affect seniors. 

What is a geriatric clinical specialist? 

A geriatric clinical specialist is a physical therapist who is board-certified in working with older patients. These physical therapists assess their patients for conditions that affect older populations, such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's, balance issues and falls, arthritis, joint replacement, osteoporosis, and more. 

Not only do these specialists provide physical therapy for elderly patients, they also offer assistance to patients to support them living safely at home as long as possible. That might mean assessing for and assisting with applications to state grants for aging in place, or discussing home layouts and what durable medical equipment might be most helpful. 

Geriatric clinical specialists also educate patients on ways to maintain their quality of life. This education includes nutrition, strength training, appropriate aerobic exercises, the importance of social interaction, and how to adapt to physical limitations related to an injury or disease. 

What are the benefits of physical therapy for seniors? 

Physical changes come with aging—reduced muscle strength, joint stiffness, issues with balance and decreased flexibility. These changes can make routine household chores more difficult or lead to dangerous falls. A physical therapist can: 

  • determine what exercises and stretching routines would best help their patients 
  • provide options and supports (exercise straps, yoga blocks, etc.) that work with the patients' abilities 
  • help a senior patient improve their balance 
  • address chronic pains that may be impacting an older person's quality of life 

Exercises to help with balance 

People of any age can do simple exercises at home to help improve or maintain the muscles that we need to keep from falling. 


This one is pretty simple—sit on the edge of a chair, knees bent and feet apart at hips width. Raise your arms in front of you, and slowly rise to standing (watch a demonstration video). 

This exercise engages the quadricep muscles, the long muscles in the front of the thigh. Strengthening the quadriceps helps reduce falls and mortality. Studies show this type of exercise can be done to build strength at any age, even if you've never had a consistent workout program. 

Calf exercises 

There are a wide range of exercises that help to stretch and strengthen the muscles in your calf, many of which can be done seated or with supports. The most basic one is a simple calf raise—stand with your feet, knees, and hips in alignment, and then lift up on to your toes. You can use a wall or a chair for balance support, or you can do this while seated until you build up strength and balance. 

Strengthening your calf muscles improves your walking speed, helps to stabilize your balance when you reach for things or when walking on uneven surfaces, and decreases your risk of falls.

When should seniors see a physical therapist?

Working with a physical therapist is a great choice at any stage of life—and ideally before an accident or a fall makes physical therapy mandatory. Physical therapy can help improve symptoms of arthritis, which could delay the need for surgery, along with addressing other chronic pain concerns. 

If you notice that your sense of balance is not what it used to be, it may be time to connect with a physical therapist. Maybe you notice that you have trouble getting out of a chair without using your hands, or that stepping up onto a curb or stairs without support is daunting. These are signs that your balance may be impacted. Physical therapists can help address these concerns and help you regain your confidence. 

At the Vanderbilt Rehabilitation Center at Newport Hospital, we help patients of any age regain any lost function or reduce pain. Learn more about our services on our website.

Monique Bellevue, DPT, GCS, Heather Geraghty, MSPT, GCS, and Elizabeth Kolator, DPT, GCS

Monique Bellevue, DPT, GCS, Heather Geraghty, MSPT, GCS, and Elizabeth Kolator, DPT, GCS, are phyiscal therapists and certified geriatric clinical specialists with the Vanderbilt Rehabilitation Center at Newport Hospital.