Two things are certain about the senior population in the US—it is growing and it is changing. The population age 65 and older is projected to nearly double in size and proportion from the already large group of 43.1 million individuals in 2012. The US Census Bureau reports that more seniors are continuing to work, more of this group are using the Internet and fewer are living in a nursing home. These are just a few examples of the changes this group is both experiencing and driving.
An important resource, occupational therapy helps seniors adapt as they participate more and more in everyday activities that younger people take for granted. The following are some great examples of how occupational therapy helps seniors break barriers that may otherwise exist for this important population.
Aging in Place
The AARP reports that nearly 90% of older adults say they want to remain in their own homes and neighborhoods as they age (referred to as “aging in place”). Several projects and initiatives are looking for ways to help make aging in place a reality for older Americans. One such project—Community Aging in Place, Advancing Better Living for Elders (CAPABLE)—sends handymen, nurses and occupational therapists into the homes of low-income seniors, using just $4,000 to help improve their independence. An occupational therapist visits the home six times, teaching ways to maintain mobility and looking for household risks. Initiatives like this have the added benefit of huge potential savings for taxpayers, by avoiding or delaying the Medicaid cost of nursing home care.
Since 2003, the population of older drivers across the US has increased by 20%, and in some states the increase is even greater. While driver safety programs geared towards seniors can help address cognitive abilities, the American Occupational Therapy Association, along with the AARP and AAA, developed a program and checklist to make sure older drivers are positioned correctly for the vehicle they drive. Older drivers are often among the safest, but are more likely to be killed or seriously injured. This CarFit initiative takes their greater fragility into account to help seniors adjust the car specifically for their needs.
Community and Connections
Seniors often lose their spouse, friends and other social connections due to death or greater seclusion as they age, but they don’t really lose a need for community and connections to others. Senior centers are just one of many initiatives that strive to keep connections with seniors and develop new connections for them. Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants work in and with senior centers to highlight the importance of participation for overall well-being. They consult with and develop programs for senior centers, including compensatory activities, life transition assistance and health programs.
Internet usage among seniors increased from 14.3% in 2000 to 44.8% in 2010. Some seniors find that using a tablet is easier than using a computer: it is generally easier to increase the font size, touch screens are easier to use and more responsive than they used to be, and applications like FaceTime or Skype are built-in and more straightforward to use in tablets. Computers, tablets and cell phones are used by seniors for connectivity to others, such as geographically distant family members. Technology is also being used in many ways to help seniors adapt with other changes, such as more advanced and less noticeable hearing aids, programs to help seniors work on memory skills, closed captioning and GPS-enabled devices that can alert a caregiver or even contact 911 directly when a senior needs immediate assistance. Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants teach seniors how to use these valuable, and sometimes even life-saving, technological devices.
Now is a great time to either learn how you can make a difference working as an occupational therapy assistant helping seniors adapt or to explore other areas of occupational therapy. Get in touch with us today to learn about how to become an occupational therapy assistant.