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GERIATRICS - Anxiety, Depressive, and Alcohol Use Disorders in Aging Adults: Implications for Physical Therapy

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The domain of mental health and illness are new frontiers for many physical therapy clinicians, researchers, and academics. Physical Therapists (PTs) must be adequately informed of the intertwining nature of different domains of health and health care services in order to effectively and efficiently provide person-centered care. This monograph highlights the concepts of emotional well-being, emotional distress, mental health, mental illness, and mental disorders. Discussed in detail are common anxiety disorders and depressive disorders in older adults, and co-morbid substance use disorders, particularly alcohol misuse and abuse.  Several health care treatment approaches (e.g., the medical approach, the psychologically informed practice approach, and the strength based approach), and considerations and implications for physical therapy, will be covered.

Editor: Barbara Billek-Sawhney, PT, EdD, DPT, GCS

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion of this monograph, the course participant will be able to:

1. Describe the importance of mental health and mental illness in older adults for physical therapists and physical therapist assistants (pta).

2. Define and differentiate the terms mental health, mental illness, mental disorder, emotional well-being, emotional distress, anxiety, depression, and alcohol use disorder.

3. Utilize evidence-based screening tests to assess for characteristics of anxiety, depression, or substance misuse/abuse.

4. Compare and contrast the benefits and limitations of the medical approach and strength-based assessment approaches for the older adult experiencing one or more mental disorders.

5. Incorporate mental health care concepts into physical therapy triage assessment and treatment interventions for supporting people living with and impacted by anxiety, depressive and/or alcohol use disorders.

Lise McCarthy


Lise is a Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Geriatric Physical Therapy since 2003. As a private practitioner at McCarthy’s Interactive Physical Therapy, Inc., San Francisco, CA, she emphasizes the comprehensive examination and treatment of the people impacted by movement-related impairments and limitations affected by multiple health domains (i.e., behavioral, ognitive, functional, mental, physical). She is an Assistant Clinical Professor, Volunteer Faculty member at the University of California at San Francisco, Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science. From 2014 to 2019 McCarthy served as the Founding Chair of the Cognitive and Mental Health Special Interest Group where she focused her efforts on collaborating with other similarly minded physical therapists and physical therapist assistants in publishing multi-media materials (e.g. peer-reviewed and clinical articles, assistant editor and guest editor of GeriNotes, national lectures, PTNow Test and Measures, poster presentations.) For her exceptional service and commitment to the Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy, she received the 2018 Presidents award. She has worked with researchers and developers at UCSF, Samuel Merritt University, and In-Step Mobility. She has also delivered multiple local, state, and national talks, in addition to workshops and videos on topics related to cognitive and mental health, fall risk, and pain.

Nicole Dawnson


Dr. Dawson is a Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Geriatric Physical Therapy and an Assistant Professor in the Division of Physical Therapy at the University of Central Florida and Co-Director of the Innovative Mobility Initiative (IMOVE™) Lab. She graduated from Ohio University with a Master of Arts degree in Physical Therapy in 2002. Dr. Dawson is a Board Certified Geriatric Physical Therapist (2014) with over 17 years of clinical experience along with a PhD in Adult Development and Aging Psychology from Cleveland State University. She has been recognized for excellence in teaching by the Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy through receipt of the Distinguished Educator Award and the American Physical Therapy Association being awarded the Margaret L. Moore Outstanding New Academic Faculty Award. She currently serves the geriatric community as the chair of the American Board of the Physical Therapy Specialties Geriatric Specialty Council, as well as through involvement with the Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy. Her current areas of research include: developing non-pharmacological interventions to improve functional and psychosocial outcomes in older adults with chronic disease including those with dementia, identifying predictors of falls and gait disorders in older adults, as well as gaining a better understanding of the disability experience. Dr. Dawson has been published in peer-reviewed journals including The Gerontologist and the Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy. She has presented at numerous international and national conferences on the subject of geriatric rehabilitation. She is passionate about bettering the treatment and care of older adults and is dedicated to assisting students and clinicians in gaining skills and knowledge to better help their patients maximize their potential. 

Course Instructions

  1. Click on the Contents tab to watch the course recording.
  2. Click the Take Quiz button to complete the assessment. Learners will have 3 attempts to pass and must answer at least 70% of questions correctly.
  3. Click the View/Print Your Certificate button under the Certificate listing. You can view/print your certificate at any time by visiting the APTA Learning Center and clicking the CEU Certificate/Transcript link on the left-hand side of the page. 

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    Open to download resource.
    Open to download resource. Please read the monograph and then complete the post-course assessment.
    12 Questions  |  3 attempts  |  8/12 points to pass
    12 Questions  |  3 attempts  |  8/12 points to pass Please complete the post-course assessment with a score of 70% or better. You have three attempts to obtain a passing score.
    CEU Certificate
    Up to 0.20 contact hours available  |  Certificate available
    Up to 0.20 contact hours available  |  Certificate available Please download and save certificate for future use.