Hand therapists can help seniors

By • Published: August 10th, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Staying active is vital for senior citizens to maintain good health. But while playing tennis or bocce or even going for a walk, older adults can fall and become injured. Many people have to visit hand therapists after suffering fractures or injury to the hand, wrist, elbow or shoulder girdle.

But while therapists manipulate the hand to try to return it to health, they also have a chance to play a broader role in a client’s health.

Just as dentists have been able to identify a patient’s risk for heart disease or mouth abnormalities that stem from other diseases, hand therapists can also uncover diseases whose symptoms include pain in the upper extremities. In this way, hand therapists can have an impact on the overall health of their clients, according to a series of new reports published in the Journal of Hand Therapy.

Fractures and falls are considered a strong indicator of underlying low bone density, or osteoporosis. Therapists make observations and give advice that can help their clients avoid future falls and fractures. They also screen patients for chronic conditions that could severely hamper their ability to maintain an active and independent lifestyle.

Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, liver, kidneys and heart can result in pain in the arms and upper body. Observant and well-informed hand therapists can identify pain patterns associated with particular diseases and then refer clients to a physician or other health professional for evaluation or treatment. In many cases, that intervention might come just in time to save someone’s life.

So the next time your hand therapist starts asking a few extra questions, play along — it just might help you stay alive, active, and in good health a little longer.