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Journey of a DPT Student

Working with Older Adults

Published July 10, 2012 2:45 PM by Lauren Rosso

My current clinical is the first where I have worked primarily with an older population; most patients being more than 70 years old. I am surprised by how much I am enjoying the experience. I don't mean to sound like I wasn't looking forward to the opportunity to work with an aging population, however I should admit I had certain expectations that were a bit off the mark.

To start, I am constantly amazed at the level of exercise intensity some of the patients can handle. I can't be the only person to have underestimated the ability of older adults to progress through a relatively vigorous exercise protocol. Just last week, I worked with a man in his late 80s who never once took a break during his session (even when encouraged to do so). And that's not an isolated incident. The entire experience has me questioning whether or not I have been challenging my patients enough up to this point. It's a fantastic learning experience about why we shouldn't approach any patient interactions with preconceived notions about their expected level of performance.

The thing I love most about working with older adults is the appreciation they have for your efforts to help them. It's not glamorous. You aren't trying to help them complete their first marathon or even get back to work. You're simply trying to help them maintain their independence. Personally, I find this much more intimidating and thus much more rewarding. They are just so thankful for everything that we do and I am very proud of what I'm doing every day when I leave the clinic. What more could you ask for?

I have found yet another niche in the PT world that I love. I don't know what I'll do when I actually have to pick a career path.


Lauren, I'm happy to hear that you have enjoyed working with the geriatric population on your clinical affiliation. It's not uncommon for people to have preconceived notions about specific patient populations, especially with geriatrics. Many people believe that it will be boring to work with them or the patient will be crabby/ornery, fragile, etc. It's always good to experience things for yourself firsthand, though,  so you can dismiss any and all preconceived notions and see what the situation truly is like. I just finished my last clinical in a SNF and, although I was pretty sure I already knew I wanted to work with the geriatric population, this sealed the deal for me. Additionally, one of my previous clinicals was at an outpatient orthopedic private clinic which saw 50% Medicare patients and I loved that as well. They really do appreciate everything you/we do for them as therapists and are just a joy to spend time with. One of the most challenging things about working with geriatrics can be keeping them on task rather than just sharing stories all the time! Anyway, try not to stress about which setting or patient population to choose to work with once you graduate. The good news is it sounds like you have had a lot of experiences that you have enjoyed so you will probably be satisfied in any of those. Additionally, our profession is so great that it offers so many avenues for us to enter into as clinicians, so if you get into one and aren't thrilled with it or you reach a point where you're ready to try something else you can! Good luck with the rest of your SPT adventure and your future endeavors as a DPT!

Brittany Dickens March 26, 2013 3:56 PM


I am currently doing my final clinical rotation at a SNF and so I am almost exclusively working with the geriatric population. I too have come across many patients who have just blown me away with their functional abilities given their age and medical/surgical history. And then unfortunately you come across those patients who are only in their 50s who appear to be relatively healthy on paper and then you find many impairments and functional limitations you wouldn't expect to see once you evaluate them. I too am finding that the best way to approach interactions with our geriatric patients is without preconceived notions. When performing evaluations and treatments with patients, the best way is to just ask them to perform a task, even if it is really high level. The main way people grow and improve in any aspect of life is if they are challenged past their norm, so I think it is important to translate that notion to the way I practice PT.

I absolutely love working with older adults because they really are so appreciative of the time and effort you put into helping them maintain independence with functional mobility, as you said, but also for their wonderful stories! I have worked with patients who have told me they skipped class to go to a Frank Sinatra concert, they remember the day the gas lights in their home changed to electric, and that they were one of the founding members of Ticketmaster! One of my favorite questions to ask geriatric patients is what the secret to a long and happy marriage is because it is either comical or enlightening to hear the various responses!

I wish you the best of luck as your time as a SPT and then as a practicing DPT!

Lora Smith March 11, 2013 11:26 PM


Your experience is very encouraging and it gives me confirmation that working with the geriatric population can be very rewarding. I have always enjoyed being around older adults and absorbing all of their wisdom. I agree they are the most appreciative for any help they receive and they value the time that is spent with them. I also have interests in many other areas of PT and have no idea what I will choose as my career path but working with older adults has continued to be an option of interest for me. There do not seem to be many colleagues who truly desire to work with older adults because they view it as unrewarding due to monotony or lack of patient progress. So it is very refreshing to hear how much you enjoyed your experience and  it makes me happy with my decision to do my second clinical in a SNF. I also love your advice on  preconceived notions of performance. I will keep this in mind throughout my future clinical rotations!

I have enjoyed your blog posts and wish you luck as a future PT!

Vaughn March 11, 2013 12:47 PM

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