Saturday, January 31, 2009

Keeping Elderly Drivers Safe

Driving is an occupation that allows individuals to get from point A to point B. It also allows individuals the freedom to go where they please without the assistance of others. However, as people age driving can become more difficult. Street signs may not be as visible as they once were and reflexes may be slower. In order to help meet these difficulties occupational therapists have been studying the limitations that are interfering with a patient's optimal driving performance.

According to an article published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, many therapists believe that larger fonts on street signs, especially warning signs, can be very helpful to the elderly driving population. This will allow them to see the street signs from farther away and gives them more time to react appropriately. Therapists also suggest better reflective signs that can be seen during the night can be helpful to the elderly driving population.

Although this research included many great suggestions on how to improve roadways for the elderly, these changes can be costly and restructuring current roadways and signs is unlikely. With many baby boomers; however, quickly approaching older adulthood it is important that these suggestions be taken into consideration. Occupational therapists can help by influencing the making of new roadways with these modifications. Along with these street modifications, the article suggests that occupational therapists must also come up with their own modifications for their clients to drive safely in the current state of roadways. Perhaps new tools and services will arise out of this growing need. However, in order for this to occur more research needs to be done on exactly how aging affects ones ability to drive.

Bohr, C. P. (2008). Critical review and analysis of the impact of the physical infrastructure on the driving ability, performance, and safety of older adults. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 62, 159-172.

Occupational Therapy: An Introduction

What exactly is occupational therapy? First let me start my defining the term occupation. Occupations are meaningful activities that people engage in. This can include running, brushing one's hair, gardening, or even sleeping. These activities may not seem meaningful to a healthy person; however, their importance becomes very apparent when a person is no longer able to engage in these activities. This loss of ability can leave a person feeling helpless and depressed.

In the case of older adults, a loss of ability to engage in everyday occupations can result in a forced dependence on their family members. For many adults this dependence can leave them feeling like a burden upon their family members.  This is where an occupational therapist can help. The goal of occupational therapy is to help the patient achieve independence in all areas of their life (AOTA). A therapist can work alongside a patient to discover new ways of engaging in an activity after an injury. The therapist can also introduce the patient and family members to assistive technology and household tools that can help the individual function in everyday activities independently and without causing strain.

For example, a patient who recently underwent hip surgery will not have the same range of mobility that they had before their surgery. Therefore, occupational therapists can help show them new ways of engaging in activities that will prevent pain. One device that is commonly advised to such patients is called a reacher. This simple device acts as an extended hand allowing the person to reach objects further without having to strain. This can be used to pick up objects off of the floor without having to bend down low to the floor. This can also allow the patient to reach products on a high shelf that they may have been unable to reach before. This simple device can allow the patient to engage in occupations such as picking items up from off the floor without having to call for the assitance of another person. This is very important for older adults living on thier own. This product helps to prevent further injury but also allows the user to feel more independent. Such devices as the reacher allow the patient to engage in occupations without having to put added stress on their body.  

     With the rise in the older population, the need for such assitive devices as well as guidance from therapist's is necessary.  Occupational therapy is a rapidly growing field. Each day therapists are discovering new ways in which they can help their older patients live happier and healthier lifestyles. 

 The American Occupational Association. What is occupational therapy?