What Are Some Examples of Therapy Exercises?

lady doing physical therapy

Dear Jeremy,

My husband was recently hospitalized for a bad case of pneumonia. He’s recovering but he’s going to need rehabilitation after he leaves the hospital to get back on his feet.

He’s a little nervous because he has no idea what to expect. Can you give me some examples of therapy exercises? I think it would help put his mind at ease.

Lori T.

Columbus, OH

Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy Exercise Examples

Dear Lori,

I’m glad to hear that your husband is making good progress in his recovery. The fact that he needs some therapy is nothing to worry about. In fact, we see a lot of patients at our rehab center this time of year with generalized weakness, which is common when people get sick with the flu or pneumonia.

What we’ll do with people in his situation is work on strength and medication management. Patients receive personal training and therapy, and that—in addition to healthy meals—helps them to gain their strength back.

As requested, here are examples of the three types of therapy exercises typically provided to older adults: physical, occupational and speech therapy.


Related: Ask the Expert: Post-Hospital Rehab Insurance Questions


Physical Therapy Exercises

A good way to think about the difference between physical and occupational therapy is that it’s like dividing the body in half. Physical therapy exercises work on everything below the waist while occupational therapy exercises work on everything above.

With physical therapy exercises, we work on ambulation (walking) and gate training. We’re focused on getting the patient as mobile as possible, so we’ll work on things such as their range of motion, their balance, their ability to climb stairs, sit-to-stand transfers (such as getting out of a chair) and so on.

We’ll also do some leg strengthening exercises with leg weights, exercise machines and bikes.

Another common physical therapy exercise is to work on transfers from the floor in case the person has a fall at home. We show patients how to get up from a fall position, either to their feet or to a position to call someone for help.

Who Benefits from Physical Therapy?

As I mentioned above, we see a lot of patients with generalized weakness who need physical therapy. However, physical therapy is also beneficial to patients who have had procedures such as knee or hip replacements, or elective back surgeries.

Occupational Therapy Exercises

Occupational therapy exercises are designed to help patients complete common, everyday tasks.

Some examples of occupational therapy exercises we use are:

  • Upper body strength exercises
  • Bathing and dressing
  • Light meal prep
  • Medication management

Occupational therapy exercises are tailored to each patient. They’re meant to cover any type of daily activity the patient may come across.

Our goal is to adapt to whatever our patients need in their regular lives. For example, we had one patient who had a dog and needed to be able to clean up after her. We bought a scoop and some Tootsie Rolls, and our therapist practiced the chore with her.

It may seem minor, but that exercise helped the patient become better equipped to return home—and to stay safe and healthy once there.

Who Benefits from Occupational Therapy?

We see a lot of overlap in occupational and physical therapy patients. Often they need each type as part of their personalized care plan.

Speech Therapy Exercises

Speech therapy exercises help seniors who are struggling with speech, memory or swallowing issues.

Some examples of exercises include strengthening the muscles around the throat or using electric stimulation on those muscles to help with swallowing. The patient may also practice with small bites of food to decrease the risk of aspiration.

Sometimes we also work on vocalization. If someone has weak vocal cords, we use exercises to help them speak louder.

Who Benefits from Speech Therapy?

Speech therapy is typically for patients with cognition issues. If someone comes in with mild or severe cognitive deficits (either from anesthesia or a form of dementia), we work with them on recovering what memory they can. We also help them acclimate to the facility.

If someone comes in with severe dementia, we know we won’t be able to get them to remember everything. But we can get them to remember to hit their call light or put the locks on their wheelchair to keep them safe.

And, as I mentioned above, speech therapy can also help seniors with swallowing issues.


Related: Transitioning Home After a Rehab Stay


Therapy for Older Adults at a Rehab Center: What to Expect

The type of therapy a patient receives depends on their situation.

To give you an idea of the process, when patients come into New Albany Rehabilitation Center, Skilled Nursing & Assisted Living, they receive a physical therapy and occupational evaluation.

Not everyone needs speech therapy, so those evaluations are not routine. However, physical and occupational therapy are always needed.

The type and amount of therapy a patient receives is then determined based on the results of the evaluations. Goals are set based on what the patient wants and a surgeon’s input.

For all patients, we set family meetings to come up with a discharge plan for that patient. If a patient lives alone, we try to make them as independent as possible upon discharge.

I hope this helps! Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Jeremy Evans, PTA, LMT
Rehabilitation Manager
New Albany Rehabilitation, Skilled Nursing & Assisted Living