Physical therapy, movement helps seniors thrive in retirement

Katie KazimirBusiness, Headlines


Physical therapist Amanda Pender observes patient Rick Stetler as he does “reach and rolls,” one of his favorite exercises at Aquacare Physical Therapy in Milford. Photo by Katie Kazimir.

Keep it moving — that’s the top tip for longevity from local experts to Delaware’s aging population.

“As we get older, we get lazy,” said 71-year-old Rick Stetler. 

Stetler was wrapping up a session at Milford’s Aquacare Physical Therapy last week.

He is one of the hundreds of retirees pouring into Delaware yearly and expected to dramatically increase the size of the state’s older population in the next 25 years, as the younger population is expected to shrink.

Keeping retirees as healthy and mobile as possible will be important to Delaware and its booming retiree segment.

Aquacare and Pace Your Life are two of the organizations focusing on that in Milford, which is one of the Delaware’s magnets for out-of-state retirees.

“Honestly, movement is the key,” said Occupational Therapist Alicia Adkins, who works at PACE Your Life and Polaris Healthcare Rehabilitation Center, both located in the Milford Wellness Center building by Silver Lake, where Aquacare can also be found. 

Mobility is Stetler’s goal and he began therapy because of a suggestion from his rheumatologist four years ago.

“I was bent forward and not walking very well,” Stetler said.

He said not keeping his core strong caused it, he said.

“If you don’t  keep your core strong you’re going to fold over like a tree,” Stetler said. 

He said his rheumatologist told him he saw a 60% improvement in Stetler’s mobility after only two sessions with Aquacare.

“I want to get to 90 percent,” he said.

While Stetler has had back issues since his 20s, it was when others began to notice that he took it seriously. 

“I was walking very bent over. I kept getting remarks (about his bent back) from people I know that I only see occasionally,” he said.

After trying other therapy locations, Stetler found Aquacare  to be the right fit for him. 

The physical therapy business has been around for 25 years, and Aquacare physical therapist Amanda Pender said about 60% of patients are retired people or have Medicare, the government insurance for older people. 

Therapy after COVID

Pace for Life’s Adkins has seen an uptick in the Boomer population where she works.

“I think COVID impacted a lot of them,” she said. “It took the movement factor away, with the aging population affected most,” she said. 

Several years later, therapists are still seeing the effects of it.

Pender said Aquacare’s one-on-one therapy is one of the business’s specialties.

“We are with the patient the whole time,” Pender said.

“She watches everything I do. She pays attention,” Stetler said.

By doing that, Pender and fellow therapists can catch even the slightest changes in mobility, which can be a critical observation.

One therapist will tell another if they see anything in any of the patients or have a recommendation or suggestion that could aid in their therapy, Pender said.

Aging people should be just as observant with their own bodies and behaviors.

“Pay attention to your body. Pay attention to changes. Reach out to someone. Literally anyone,” if a change is evident, Adkins pleaded.

“Don’t be a thick head like me, ” Stetler said, and wait until a small problem becomes a major one.


At PACE Your Life in Milford, Occupational Therapist Alicia Adkins demonstrates a fold up chair that makes getting around easier for older people with mobility issues. Photo by Katie Kazimir

A lot of issues can be caught in annual screenings, during which a medical professional checks for changes as they start, Pender said.

Things to look out for can seem simple.

For instance, Adkins said, sometimes people will have a hard time getting in and out of the bathtub so they will begin washing at the sink.

“That change can lead to another change,”  Adkins said.”Try not to hide it when that sort of thing begins to come apparent.”

Falling is a common indicator that someone who is aging is beginning to have mobility issues.

Atkins said by seeking help after the initial fall, there will be less problems to solve going into the future.

The earlier it is treated the more successful treatment is,” she said.

Many older people tried to hide a mobility problem out of fear and embarrassment.

“They don’t want to go to the doctor. They don’t want to tell their family,” Adkins said.

Adkins encourages patients to speak up when something doesn’t feel right because there is something that can be done.

“Doctors and medical staff always try to look out for the best interests of their patients. They don’t hold things against you, she said.

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When medical professionals know the whole picture, they can solve problems.

“Be honest,” Adkins said. “What do they say, honesty is the best policy.”

Stetler moved to the Milford Ponds neighborhood 12 years ago with his wife Pat from Safety Harbor, Fla., where they originally retired.

The couple, married for more than 50 years, spent their careers and raised their family in Collegeville, Pa. where Rick worked for Northern Suffolk Railroad and Pat was a yoga instructor.

Pat owns Jade Yoga and has benefitted from being active her entire life. 

These days, Stetler joins his wife for a number of activities that aid in his health and functionality. 

They bike, walk their dog, Chet, a 5-year-old yellow Lab. and enjoy the outdoors, particularly nearby Killens Pond State Park in Felton.

While they are loving living in Milford in their golden years, there are a couple things that would make life even better. 

They’d like to see their grandchildren more often and wish there was more night life, restaurants and shopping such as Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.

Protect your own mobility

Adkins said people can do a lot to protect their own mobility.

Simply walking can make a drastic difference, she said. Older people should make it a point to walk any way they can, around the block or even around the house.

“If you can’t walk, simply  stand up and sit down a couple times while watching tv, ” she suggested.

Other exercises that can be done while seated include reaching up and out with your arms and legs.

While it is helpful to do those exercises with weights, it is not necessary.

Eating healthy is also key, paying particular attention to adding proteins to the diet, the therapists said.

For those who find cooking difficult, Adkins often suggests using an instant pot because that makes preparing meals simple.

Community resources, particularly the Milford Senior Center, also can be a great help, providing support groups and connections to community services and businesses targeted to older people.

“Community sources are out there for a reason,” Adkins said.”Use your senior center as an asset when you start to feel changes coming along.”


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