Occupational therapy has been gaining popularity in recent years for many of the benefits that it can provide for older adults. Many occupational therapists have been helping older adults to live safer and more independent lives. One recent study shows that occupational therapy may in fact help the elderly live longer.
A recent randomized trial published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society looked at the mortality rates for a group of individuals enrolled in an intervention program called ABLE which combined preventive occupational therapy and physical therapy for older adult subjects. Through this intervention program the subjects learned strategies such as home modifications, safety techniques, fall recovery techniques and balance and strength exercises. In a preceding study ABLE was shown to reduced many functional difficulties for older adults such as the fear of falling and introduced the use of assistive technology and home safety modifications. A randomized trial was conducted on subjects up to 4 years from the entry into the study. The results showed that at 2 years the participants who took part in the ABLE program had a mortality rate of 5.6% compared to a rate of 13.2% for the controls. The results also showed that participants with a moderate mortality risk had a 16.7% mortality rate compared to 28.2% for controls with a moderate mortality risk. Overall, the results from this randomized trial showed that the intervention group had up to a 3.5 year longer survival rate compared to the control group.
While the study could not state what exactly caused this increase in survivorship, one reason could be the education provided to the older adults through such programs as home safety and fall prevention. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2005 15,800 people over the age of 65 died as a result of unintentional falls (CDC). Therefore, if occupational therapy fall prevention programs can help older adults learn about ways to change their environment for optimal safety then many of these deaths could be prevented. So while it cannot be proved that occupational therapy is the new fountain of youth, many studies are showing the benefits that it can have for older adults. Perhaps more fall preventive programs could be provided for at risk older adults. By enrolling in such programs, older adults may be able to live happy, healthier, and even longer lives.
American Occupational Therapy Association. Occupational therapy, physical therapy intervention extends lifespan and quality of life. http://www.healthnewsdigest.com/news/Research_270/Occupational_Therapy_Physical_Therapy_Intervention_Extends_Lifespan_and_Quality_of_Life.shtml
Gitlin, L. N., Hauck, W. W., Dennis, P. M., Winter, L., Hodgson, N. & Schnifeld, S. Long-term effect on mortality of a home intervention that reduces functional difficulties in older adults: Results from a a randomized trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 57, 417-481.
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