By Danielle Conklin, OTR/L, Outreach Senior Occupational Therapist
Year after year, falls continue to be a top threat to the health and safety of the older adult population. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019 falls contributed to 34,000 deaths, 3 million emergency room visits, and over $50 billion in medical costs to those who are 65 years and older. One in 4 older adults will experience a fall each year, making it the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries in this demographic.
Occupational therapists can be found working with homebound and community-dwelling older adults in order to increase independence in activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). But an occupational therapist’s role in fall prevention is often overlooked.
ADL and IADL performance require a great deal of dynamic balance requirements. Consider reaching outside of your base of support to grab a glass from the top shelf, looking over your shoulder when there is a knock at the door, or walking to the bathroom while navigating around furniture, shoes, or pets.
Occupational therapists are trained to identify warning signs and environmental barriers within the home that can lead to falls. After identifying warning signs, therapists can create a plan of care and design treatment sessions that promote safety and prevent falls, while increasing occupational performance and overall quality of life.
Recent studies show that a multi-disciplinary approach provides the greatest outcomes. For maximum results, interventions should include:
Environmental modifications (addressing poor lighting, clearing clutter, addressing loose rugs, introducing durable medical equipment (DME), etc.),
Exercise intervention (balance, coordination, stability, muscle strength, range of motion, reaction speed, endurance, etc.), and
Clinical assessment (addressing vision, orthostatic hypotension, managing medications, addressing fear of falling, vitamin deficiencies, cardiac problems, decline in cognition, etc).
By understanding occupational therapy’s role in fall prevention and understanding potential problem areas, doctors, physical therapists, speech therapists, social workers, and caregivers can discuss concerns with their primary care provider to initiate occupational therapy services in order to reduce the risk of falls for those most at risk.
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