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Overview of geriatric rehabilitation: Program components and settings for rehabilitation

Helen Hoenig, MD, MPH
Section Editor
Kenneth E Schmader, MD
Deputy Editor
Daniel J Sullivan, MD, MPH


The primary purpose of rehabilitation is to enable people to function at the highest possible level despite physical impairment. Rehabilitation includes a vast array of interventions provided by a diverse group of providers across the entire continuum of care. While rehabilitation may be provided to all age groups, the fastest-growing population of persons requiring rehabilitation services is adults over 65 years of age. This is because of the aging of the US and worldwide populations [1,2].

Improvements in both medical and rehabilitative care have helped to reduce prevalence of old age disability [3], but it comes with a substantive price in demands for both medical and rehabilitation care [4]. Moreover, there is concern that improvements in health and disability gained over the last several decades may not impact the generation just entering retirement. The increasing numbers in this population, and the apparent increases in disability related to musculoskeletal disorders (as well as depression, diabetes, and neurologic disorders), affecting mobility-related activities in particular, will likely further drive needs for rehabilitation [5].

Making good use of rehabilitation resources is facilitated by an appreciation for how disability occurs and the mechanisms by which rehabilitation is effective. This knowledge leads to understanding of which specific rehabilitation services might best be provided, where to provide them, and who should provide them. This topic will review aspects of geriatric rehabilitation related to types of involved providers, interventions, and settings. Indications for rehabilitation and patient assessment are addressed separately. (See "Overview of geriatric rehabilitation: Patient assessment and common indications for rehabilitation".)


There are two major conceptual models for understanding disability and where rehabilitation services can be most effective:

The International Classification of Function, Disability, and Health (ICF), developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) [6]

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 30, 2016.
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