Physical Therapist Assistant with an elderly patient

How to Become a Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant

Educational Requirements, Certifications, Daily Responsibilities, and Salary

Physical Therapist Assistant with an elderly patient

For older adults living in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, staying active is important to age with dignity. While the appropriate activity level is different for every individual and their health circumstances, movement is still an important part of all-around wellness at any age. Senior care physical therapist assistants help their patients maintain or regain their physical capabilities so they can perform daily tasks independently or live their lives more comfortably. Becoming a senior care PTA is a fulfilling and financially rewarding way to make a living, which is why this career recently claimed a spot on our top PTA jobs list.

Our career guide will give you all the details about how to become a senior care physical therapist assistant. We’ll cover the required schooling, certifications, and what to expect during most days on the job. You’ll also learn how much you could make as a senior care PTA and how long it usually takes to launch your new career.

If you’re interested in becoming a PTA but still curious about other jobs, you can explore the other options on our list of the top physical therapist assistant careers.

Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant Definition

What Is a Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant?

As people age, they naturally lose some strength, dexterity, and balance and become more susceptible to various medical conditions. Senior care physical therapist assistants help elderly patients maintain their independence and overall quality of life to the extent that’s safe and realistic for each patient.

Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant Do?

Under the supervision of physical therapists, senior care physical therapist assistants guide their patients through exercise and mobility routines designed to maintain their physical capabilities and overall well-being. Senior care PTAs may provide hands-on care like stretching or massage or supervise patients as they exercise or learn to use medical equipment like canes or walkers.

Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant: Work Environment

Where Do Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistants Work?

Because people’s physical capabilities vary significantly as they age, senior care physical therapist assistants can work with various patients in different environments. Senior care PTAs are often employed by assisted-living facilities or nursing-care clinics, though some also work in outpatient clinics or hospitals that specialize in treating older patients.

Senior citizens in assisted-living facilities are usually somewhat physically active and work with senior care PTAs to maintain their mobility and independence. Senior patients who live in nursing homes are typically less active and require more supervision, so their sessions with PTAs may be focused more on gentle movement to reduce discomfort and encourage general well-being.

Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant Duties

Some of the daily responsibilities of senior care physical therapist assistants include:

  • Evaluating patients and recording their progress over time
  • Guiding patients through exercise and mobility routines
  • Performing stretching, massage, and other forms of hands-on therapy
  • Teaching patients how to use medical equipment like canes or walkers
  • Educating patients on exercise routines they can perform on their own at home

Other physical therapist assistant duties may include preparing and maintaining equipment and light administrative work like scheduling appointments or responding to emails.

Medical professional and senior woman looking at tablet

Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant Hours & Schedule

Senior care PTA jobs are available part-time or full-time, though the majority of PTAs work full-time, 40-hour workweeks. Senior care physical therapist assistants at inpatient facilities may be scheduled on weekends or outside standard business hours. However, they’re unlikely to work overnight shifts as they’re not considered emergency providers.

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant?

Senior care PTAs must have excellent therapeutic skills and attention to detail, as the people under their care are often frailer than the average physical therapy patient. Polished interpersonal and communication skills will also serve you well, as some of your patients may be hard of hearing or experiencing cognitive decline associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s. Like all PTAs, senior care physical therapist assistants need a certain amount of physical strength and stamina. You’ll be spending lots of time on your feet and need the strength and balance to help older people move around safely and at their own pace.

Why is Senior Care a Great Career Path for Physical Therapist Assistants?

Spending time with senior citizens can be enjoyable and enlightening, as they’ve seen incredible advancements during their lifetimes and often have fascinating stories to share. Senior care PTAs have opportunities to form long-term friendships with the people under their care. In addition, helping people age as gracefully as possible is rewarding for many people who hope to receive the same level of care one day!

Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant Schooling, Training, & Certifications

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant?

To become a senior care PTA, you’ll need to complete a physical therapist assistant program from an accredited college or university. Most associate degree programs require two full years in school, but enrolling in an accelerated degree program could earn your PTA degree in as little as 21 months.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant?

Like any other long-term goal, the path to becoming a senior care PTA can feel more manageable when broken down into a series of smaller steps. People who work full-time jobs while taking PTA classes part-time may take longer to complete their degree than PTA students taking a full course load.

Our step-by-step guide breaks down what it takes to become a senior care physical therapist assistant:

1. Enroll in a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) Degree Program

The first step toward becoming a senior care physical therapist assistant is enrolling in a PTA program at an accredited college or university. PTA jobs are accessible for almost anyone willing to apply themselves in school and stay focused for the duration of their degree program.

To qualify for the PTA degree program at Provo College, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED, a passing score on the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) exam, and a reliable Internet connection. Some PTA programs may also require completing background checks or drug screenings.

2. Earn Your Physical Therapist Assistant Associates Degree

Like many associate degree programs, your physical therapist assistant education will include general-education requirements like math, English, science, and psychology. While not directly related to treating patients, all these courses help you become a better problem-solver, critical thinker, and communicator.

The bulk of your PTA degree program will focus on building the fundamentals of physical therapy and patient care. You’ll learn about the human body and how it moves, heals, and recovers at all different stages of life. Expect to take courses covering kinesiology, pharmacology, orthopedics, and human anatomy, which will help you care for older patients as a senior care PTA. You’ll also participate in plenty of hands-on training, learning to guide patients through exercise and recovery routines.

During the final stage of your physical therapist assistant education, you’ll perform supervised therapy work with real patients in a clinical setting. When it comes to honing the skills and instincts you need to safely care for older patients, there’s no substitute for real-world experience.

When deciding where to attend school for your physical therapist assistant degree, consider colleges offering additional benefits like career counseling and job-placement services. Getting your PTA education from an institution that can connect you with potential employers is a great way to jump-start your new career.

Close up of a medical professional, smartphone, and laptop

3. Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam

Before earning your PTA license and beginning your career as a senior care physical therapist assistant, you’ll need to pass the PTA version of the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). Passing this exam demonstrates your ability to care for patients safely and effectively, including the geriatric patients you’ll treat as a senior care PTA. The exam is a multiple-choice test with around 200 questions. You’ll have approximately four hours to complete the exam.

Taking a practice exam in advance of the real NPTE is recommended for almost any PTA student. You can find practice exams through the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (the same organization that administers the NPTE). The Practice Exam and Assessment Tool—or PEAT for short—will give you an idea of what to expect during the exam. PEAT also provides real-time feedback, which can help identify any topics to review before taking the actual test.

Not everyone passes the NPTE on their first attempt, including those who eventually become successful PTAs. You can retake the exam if you come up short of the required passing score on your first try. However, be advised that you can only take the test up to three times in any given 12-month period. If you dedicate yourself to mastering the material and passing the certification exam on your first try, you’ll be able to start your new PTA career as soon as possible.

4. Get Your PTA License on a State-By-State Basis

Once you’ve passed the NPTE, you’ll be eligible to become licensed in whichever state you plan to work. Because the NPTE is a national exam, transferring your scores and gaining licensure in different states is usually simple. This flexibility allows you to take your PTA career to any senior care facility you choose or to seek out the highest-paying PTA jobs throughout the country. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy will be your go-to resource for determining each state’s licensing requirements for PTAs.

Different states have varying requirements for maintaining your PTA license. However, most states will require occasional completion of ongoing education programs or proof of current employment and relevant work experience.

5. Gain Work Experience and Earn Additional Certifications

While some physical therapist assistants can find jobs in senior-care facilities immediately after finishing their PTA program, many employers prefer to hire PTAs with at least some general physical therapy experience. Older adults are more prone to injury than other patient groups, so PTAs who work with them must thoroughly understand the risks and considerations at play when providing physical therapy.

Many of the highest-paid senior care PTAs also earn advanced certifications to demonstrate proficiency in caring for older patients. The American Physical Therapy Association offers several advanced proficiency pathways for PTAs, including a specialization in geriatrics. Ambitious PTAs can earn more than one of these advanced certifications to make themselves even more attractive candidates for potential employers. Orthopedics and neurology are other specialties that will come in handy during a career as a senior care physical therapist assistant.

Elderly woman with female caregiver

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant?

The cost of earning a physical therapist assistant associate degree varies significantly between institutions and according to your financial situation. When comparing the cost of college, be sure to ask how much you can expect to spend on lab fees, books, and other materials. Some colleges will include all these as part of a flat-rate pricing structure per credit hour, saving you money in the long run.

Wherever you’re pursuing your PTA education, inquire about financial aid programs that can make college significantly more affordable. Many colleges have dedicated financial-aid staff to help you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal and state grants, plus loans and institutional aid.

Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant Salary

How Much Do Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistants Make?

Physical therapist assistants throughout the United States earn an average annual salary* of around $61,000, which is about $29.00 per hour. PTA salaries among the 25% of earners start at over $75,000. The highest-paid PTAs with salaries in the top 10% can expect to bring in $80,000 per year or more.

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide salary* data specifically for senior care physical therapist assistants, PTAs who earn advanced certifications and build resumes with prestigious employers tend to earn the highest salaries. And with a large portion of the population poised to enter old age, senior care PTAs can expect a stable career outlook for many years.

Ready to Start Your Career as a Senior Care Physical Therapist Assistant?

Senior care PTAs have endless opportunities to gain perspective from people who have experienced a lot in their lives. Helping senior patients stay active and capable well into their later years makes for a rewarding line of work. And in many cases, you’ll find yourself forming lasting relationships with your patients and their families.

Learn more about the physical therapist assistant program at Provo College, and get started on the road to an exciting and fulfilling new PTA career today!