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Americans remain optimistic about their ability to live independently despite expectations of physical decline, according to an American Physical Therapy Association survey.
ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA, October 1, 2015—A majority of American adults expect to be living independently at age 80, and yet roughly half expect to lose strength and flexibility with age, according to a survey conducted by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).
Those seemingly contradictory beliefs, and other findings from a consumer survey of more than 1,000 adults commissioned by APTA suggest that Americans have a lot to learn about healthy aging.
Americans are conflicted on aging
Survey respondents seemed to be resigned to physical decline (51 percent expect to lose strength and 49 percent expect to lose flexibility as they age despite optimism about their future mobility and independence (68 percent expect they will still be able to engage in the same type of physical activities at 65 and older, and 59 percent expect to be living independently at home at age 80).
Americans are also conflicted about when the effects of aging begin, with younger respondents expecting to see signs begin when people reach their 40s and 50s, while 53 percent of all respondents believe people start to notice signs of aging in their 60s or older.
Aging effects can be slowed
Experiencing some effects of aging is inevitable, but physical therapists want people to know that many of the symptoms and conditions associated with aging are not always a matter of bad luck, and improvements can be made even at an advanced age.
"So many patients first come to physical therapy believing they have no choice—that they can't avoid difficult surgeries or dependence on prescription drugs as they get older," said APTA spokeswoman Alice Bell, PT, DPT, GCS.
"These patients are genuinely amazed to see how conditions like low back pain, arthritis, diabetes—even bladder leakage—can be managed or even reversed with physical therapist treatment."
A physical therapist can help
Physical therapists, who are movement system experts, can help adults stay strong and remain independent, enabling the kind of lifestyle survey respondents hope for, despite widespread beliefs that the negative effects of aging are unavoidable. For instance, research shows that an appropriate exercise program can improve muscle strength and physical function in one's 60s, 70s, and even 80s and older.
Bell added that physical therapists are uniquely qualified to prescribe the most effective exercise regimen, which may help individuals avoid painful, costly procedures, like hip and knee replacements that require months of recovery, if initiated before extensive damage is done.
APTA has published nine physical therapist tips to help educate the public about common age-related conditions—including chronic pain, frailty, falls, heart disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimer's disease—that effect millions of Americans but that scientific studies show can be prevented or delayed with appropriate physical activity and other healthy behaviors.
National Physical Therapy Month
APTA has published resources related to healthy aging, including an infographic highlighting the survey results, at its consumer information website: www.MoveForwardPT.com/AgeWell. APTA will be communicating about its #AgeWell initiative throughout the month of October in recognition of National Physical Therapy Month.
APTA represents more than 90,000 physical therapists, physical therapist assistants and students of physical therapy nationwide. Learn more about conditions physical therapists can treat, and find a physical therapist in your area at: www.MoveForwardPT.com. Follow us on Twitter (@MoveForwardPT) and Facebook.
The #AgeWell survey findings are based on an online survey conducted from August 10-12, 2015. Respondents were a demographically representative sample of 1,010 US adults aged 18 and older.