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Tag Archive for: seniors

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How Can Occupational Therapists Best Support Older Adults as they Transition to Non-Drivers?

Guest Blogger Lauren Heinken, Occupational Therapist

It’s winter, and with the season comes decreased daylight and increased risk of weather-related adverse driving conditions. These factors can contribute to a higher incidence of motor vehicle collisions, and this may be particularly true for older adult drivers who are experiencing physical and cognitive health changes. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) reports that senior drivers with cognitive impairment/dementia have up to 4.7 times the risk of being involved in a motor vehicle collision. The MTO’s Senior Driver License Renewal Program operates in an effort to ensure that older adult drivers are screened for health changes that may impact their ability to drive. Occupational Therapists (OTs) may be involved in the process by administering the screening tools that can play a role in determining an individual’s fitness-to-drive; however, physicians and the MTO work together to ultimately decide whether an individual is able to maintain their license or not.

Many older adults see driving as imperative for maintaining their independence, especially if they have been lifelong drivers or are relatively unfamiliar with other forms of transportation. More physically demanding forms of transportation, walking to bus stops, or cycling, may no longer be viable alternatives for many. Outside of the main urban centres, Canada’s population is dispersed across great geographic distances; in more rural areas, public transportation services may be sparse if available at all. The distances individuals need to travel on a frequent basis to access services and participate in activities of their choosing are often great. As health professionals who focus on helping individuals find ways to engage in their chosen occupations, it fits that OTs should be involved in supporting older adults who have lost, or are at risk of losing, their ability to drive.  OTs can work with their clients to minimize the way in which losing one’s license influences overall quality of life and ability to engage in chosen occupations.

As with any major life change, planning for the loss of one’s drivers license well in advance can help to limit the impact of the change when it happens. After all options for ensuring and promoting someone’s ability to drive safely have been exhausted, the next responsible therapist-client step would be to initiate discussions related to transportation alternatives, regardless of whether or not this lifestyle change will be occurring in the near future. It is understandable that OTs may be reluctant to initiate these discussions as safe continuation of driving is often an emotionally charged subject and can lead to very difficult conversations.  Introducing the subject slowly and matching the content of the conversation to the client’s comfort level can help to limit any negative effects on the OT-client therapeutic relationship. Below is a proposed progression of an OTs involvement with a client who has lost, or is at risk of losing their ability to drive.

 

 

 

 

OTs should let the changing seasons serve as a reminder to consider initiating these discussions during client sessions. Although clients may be unreceptive and unwilling NOW to accept intervention aimed at preparing for this lifestyle change for LATER, a brief discussion may be enough to get them thinking about this important topic to help them adjust to the possibility when / if it arises.  Sometimes as therapists the ideas we introduce early are not accepted for months or years later, but our role includes having the patience to work with clients around their comfort level and to support change when they are ready to accept it.

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Older Adults and Financial Stress

In a previous post, Solutions for Disability-Related Stress, we discussed how clients who are ill or who have been injured almost always deal with financial stress, and provided some solutions an Occupational Therapist can offer.

Other sources of financial stress can stem from aging.  Our senior population faces increased healthcare bills, long-term living expenses and more which can all create a great deal of anxiety.   Take a look at the following guide care of Reverse Mortgage Alert (not a mortgage broker) to learn more about Senior’s financial stress and to find some coping strategies.

Reverse Mortgage Alert:  Financial Stress Coping Guide for Seniors

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Can Distraction be Helpful for the Mind?

Distraction is everywhere…

up-squirrel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… Back to our post.  While it’s important to avoid life’s distractions and focus on the task at hand, a new study is showing that some distraction can benefit older adults with creativity and problem solving.  Learn more about the study and its findings in the following from CTV News.

CTV News:  Aging brain benefits from distraction: study

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Aging in Place

Co-written with Claire Hurd

If you are an “empty nester” you may start to think how this phase in your life relates to your home and ongoing need for a larger space that previously accommodated a growing family.  Or, for some with kids out of the house, married and with their own families, they want to start spending time in a warmer climate, or want to move closer to their grandchildren.  Some will even consider moving in with their children to help raise the next generation, or because financially this is the most suitable option.  Whatever the reason, housing can be a massive contributor to function as we age, and there are several things to consider.

Universal design:
Universal design, or inclusive design, has the goal of maximizing usability for all, without sacrificing aesthetics when possible. You have probably seen universal design in many public spaces, but it can be incorporated into homes as well.  Examples of this may include lever door handles rather than knobs, raised outlets and lowered light switches, and large flat panel switches rather than small toggle versions. Many new homes are being designed to be “visitable,” with a basic level of universal design, including a smooth, ground level entrances without stairs, a wheelchair accessible main floor bathroom, wide doors, and wide hallways with room to maneuver a mobility device. When touring a potential new home, see if principles of universal design have been included. If you are renovating, consider including universal design elements in layout and fixtures.

Layout:
Bungalows and condos are usually the most accessible options. Stair lifts are expensive, and the more landings or turns there are, the more they cost. It is also difficult to install them on curved staircases. Some side split designs may be conducive to elevator installation, but side or split-level homes are more difficult to accommodate in the event of mobility decline.

Bathrooms:
Bathrooms should have room to maneuver a mobility device. “Comfort height” toilets are a few centimetres taller than standard toilets, more like a standard chair, and make sitting down and standing up easier. A walk-in shower, or, better yet, a roll-in shower with no ledge to step over, will be accessible by family members and guests who may have temporary or more permanent mobility challenges.

Kitchens:
If possible, have variable counter heights in the kitchen, to make food preparation easier for taller adults, shorter children, and individuals who need to sit. Recessed areas underneath countertops and appliances can accommodate mobility devices or chairs. Ensure that lighting is good in all task areas. Rounded corners prevent injuries. Casement windows are more readily opened than the traditional double-hung styles.

Outdoors:
Gardening is a great activity for mind, body, and soul, but bending and kneeling on the ground can be difficult for many people. Raised flower beds and container gardens are a great solution.

Location, location, location:
Even if a house or apartment is otherwise perfect and accessible, if it’s in the middle of nowhere or in a neighbourhood that feels unsafe, it may not promote its occupants’ wellbeing. Proximity to services, such as grocery stores and public transportation, not only prevents social isolation, but may decrease potentially unwanted dependence on others.

Accessibility can benefit health, wellbeing and safety for anyone – regardless of physical or cognitive limitation. If you have more specific questions about how you can help yourself or others age comfortably in place, consider consulting with an occupational therapist.  Occupational therapists are trained to assess the person, their environment and the tasks they need to complete in the places they live and work.  So, before you make potentially costly mistakes in planning how you can better manage the “job of living”, give an OT a call.

 

For more information on Aging in Place and other helpful topics for Senior’s please visit our Senior’s Health page.

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Seniors: Take Advantage of Renovation Tax Credits

In Ontario the Healthy Homes Renovation Tax Credit is helping many seniors, age 65 and over, take advantage of necessary home improvements at a lower cost.  Many seniors, opting to age in place as long as possible, are modifying and renovating their homes to make them safer and more accessible for their changing needs.  The tax credit from the Ontario Government provides up to $1500 for eligible renovations.  Take a look at the following from Senior City for more on the program and why it pays to hire a professional.

Senior City:  Home Improvement or DIY Disaster – Renovation Tax Credits

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Fall Prevention Toolkit

Falls are the leading cause of injury amoung older adults in Canada and the number one cause of brain and spinal cord injury in seniors.  November is fall prevention month and to assist others in working to prevent the dangers the Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre has compiled a toolkit.  Check it out to help seniors prevent falls.

Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre:  Fall Prevention Month

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Mental Health Resources For Seniors

Across Canada new resources for seniors facing mental health concerns are available.  The Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health and Shoppers Drug Mart have teamed up on the Seniors Mental Health Initiative to create and distribute these valuable resources to seniors and their families.  Take a look at the following article from Newswire for more information about this great initiative.

Newswire.ca:  Government of Canada Launches Seniors’ Mental Health Initiative

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Occupational Therapy Works For Seniors!

October is Occupational Therapy month in Canada.  This month we will be celebrating and sharing on our blog everything OT.  In our OT Month series, “OT Works Here,” we will be highlighting some of the key areas in which OT works to change lives by providing solutions for living.

Today we want to highlight the many ways that Occupational Therapy works for seniors in the following infographic:

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Occupational Therapy and Aging in Place

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

Being proactive with your health is one of the best strategies for preventing future problems.  This is in contrast to being reactive which would involve trying to address a problem AFTER it has happened.  Much like putting a grab bar in the bathroom AFTER a fall caused hip fracture, the better strategy would have been putting in the bar BEFORE, while you are well, to prevent the fracture in the first place. This is what “aging in place” is all about.

As the population continues to age, more and more people are opting to stay in their homes.  In fact, in Ontario, 60% of people over 75 still own a home.

Harvard Health Publications compiled a list of “6 Ways You Can Prepare to Age Well” and in reading this we identified that 5 of the 6 strategies related to occupational therapy!  So, we have adapted this to show the top 5 ways occupational therapy can be involved in the aging well and aging in place process:

1.       Space Modification:  An occupational therapist is trained to provide solutions for the “occupations” of daily living.  The home you occupy may need to be slightly adapted, or more extensively modified, in order to ensure it will meet your needs as your physical abilities change.  An occupational therapist can help by assessing your current space, your physical concerns, and will develop a plan for any current or future adaptations you may require.  Common areas OT’s consider in the home include the bathroom, kitchen, flooring, entry ways and stairs.

2.       Fall Prevention:  As people age, the dangers of falling become heightened.  An occupational therapist can help by assessing your home to look for any existing dangers that may lead to falls.  Common areas considered include flooring, transitions, layout and home organization.  Check out our video on “fall prevention” to learn more about how OT can help to reduce your risk.

3.       Is a Move Necessary:  Although many are hoping to live in their current home as long as possible, at some point people often have to make the difficult decision to relocate.  If the layout of your home is not suitable for your aging in place plan, it may be necessary to look to move to a more suitable home, such as something that is one level or has less maintenance.  Alternatively, many seniors look to downsize into senior friendly neighbourhoods or villages where care might be onsite if needed.

4.       Plan Ahead for Assistance:  Do you have someone reliable who is willing to assist and care for you in your later years?  An occupational therapist can help you to plan for the assistance you may need – such as help with activities of daily living, finances, meal preparation, transportation and home maintenance.  It’s best to discuss with loved ones early on if they are able to help with any of these tasks, and if not, an OT can help you to find this assistance in the community.

5.       Emergency Preparation:  As you age, the likelihood of an emergency is heightened.  Emergencies could include a fall, health crisis, problem with your home, or medical condition that worsens overtime causing you to need 24 hour care.  An occupational therapist can help you to develop an emergency plan, or to have the supports in place so you can get support when it is needed.

It is important to remember that people will age differently, and no two people will have the same experience with the changes that occur as we all get older.  I know a lady at my gym who is 75 and can run circles around most 30 year olds.  A unique and custom approach is the best strategy for ensuring that you get the help you need, based on your own abilities and the environment in which you live.   It is just important to develop your plans early and proactively, instead of reactively trying to develop solutions after something has happened.  Seek the services of an occupational therapist for input on how to “age well” and “age in place”.