About the SeniorAdvisor.com 2014 In-Home Innovation Scholarship: We started the scholarship program to bring awareness of the unique benefits and challenges of in-home caregiving for seniors to younger generations. The questions posed by the scholarship encouraged our nation’s future caregivers to present solutions for improving home care in the United States. College-aged students were required to answer one of the three essay topics below and provide a short bio as part of their scholarship application. Read the winning essays here.

How can your major of study improve the lives of seniors receiving in-home care services?

Essay response by Stacey Dahm

The role of occupational therapy is to help individuals participate in the activities they need and want to do through the use of everyday occupations. Specifically in home health and older adult care, occupational therapists can assess a person’s strengths, weaknesses, and support networks in order to help the individual develop strategies to increase quality of life and help the individual to remain in their home. Home health occupational therapists can improve the lives of older adults by addressing the whole person: their personal capabilities, their environment, and their desired occupations.

The Person, Environment, Occupation, Performance framework is often used by occupational therapists to guide intervention planning. Occupational therapists acknowledge the importance of assessing all areas of an individual in order to provide client-centered care and increase acceptance of therapy in older adults. Based on this model, occupational therapists assess a client’s desired occupations to determine which components they are able and not able to perform. Occupational therapists are specialized in assessing how both personal abilities (e.g. strength, range of motion, vision, hearing) and the client’s physical and social environment (e.g. number of stairs, railings, width of doorways, social support) interact to impact the performance of their desired occupation.  In order to perform client-centered care, occupational therapists work with clients on their desired occupations by restoring function, adapting the task/environment, and preventing further impairment. Home health occupational therapists can help clients with any daily occupation that has become limited due to impairment, such as activities of daily living (e.g. bathing, dressing, eating), instrumental activities of daily living (e.g. laundry, cooking, cleaning), sleep, leisure activities, and more. By addressing all important areas of a person’s life, home health therapists truly improve the lives of older adults.

Some specific roles of occupational therapists in the home include fall prevention, medication management, environmental adaptations, and caregiver education.  One in three older adults over the age of 65 fall each year, and falls are the number one reason for loss of independence in the older adult population (Sattin, 1992). However, falls are preventable, and one role of an occupational therapist is to assess clients’ homes for fall hazards and to provide adaptations to the home in order to prevent falls from occurring. Another role of an occupational therapist is to help with medication management.  An estimated 33 to 50 percent of older adults do not adhere to their medications as prescribed, which can lead not only to declined physical function, but to an increase in fall risk (Munger, Van Tassell, & LaFleur, 2007). Occupational therapists can provide strategies such as pill boxes and schedules to older adults (with physical or cognitive impairment) to help them correctly take their medications. In all treatment sessions it is important for the home health occupational therapist to include family and caregivers in order to increase the chance of compliance with each intervention and adaptive strategy.

In addition, occupational therapists can provide adaptive equipment for many activities of daily living in order to increase independence. Examples include bath benches, dressing sticks, sock aides, and long-handled sponges. By providing adaptive equipment, an individual will require less personal ability to complete a desired task and therefore will be able to independently perform that activity longer without outside assistance.  For example, a client may be able to use a toilet completely independently except for the task of standing up from the toilet seat. By providing the client with a raised toilet seat, he can now stand up from the toilet by himself and complete the entire activity independently; whereas, if he did not receive this environmental adaptation and could not go to the bathroom by himself, he may need to hire outside assistance or go to a nursing home. Overall, occupational therapists are trained to help client’s improve performance on any home activity that they find important with the overarching goal of remaining at home and increasing a client’s quality of life.

About Stacey

Stacey is currently a M.S. Occupational Therapy Student at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

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