DuBOIS, Pa. — Staying safe in the home is a growing concern among senior citizens. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture. Some Penn State DuBois students have helped area seniors learn to avoid this leading cause of injury this semester with their fall prevention program. Students in the Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program offered their program this year at St. Michael’s Terrace, a senior living community in DuBois.
Over three weekly sessions, students led group exercises with residents, with the aim of improving mobility, balance and more. They also provided information on how to stay safe when navigating their home or public spaces.
“Seniors are educated on exercises to maintain joint mobility in the hips, knees and ankles — which increases a person’s flexibility so they will be less likely to fall,” explained OTA Program Director LuAnn Demi. “They are also educated on exercises to increase strength in their arms and legs. If leg muscles are stronger, they will better support a person, and if arm muscles are stronger, it helps with pushing up from a chair, or using a walking aid, which are also important in preventing falls.”
The CDC states that one out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury, and each year, 3 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries.
In addition to providing this community service, Demi said students are getting hands-on lessons that that will stick with them as they enter the workforce.
“This is one of the first experiences the OTA students have in planning, presenting and interacting with people in the community,” she said. “In their future careers as OTA’s they will be using these skills on a daily basis. Additionally, falls are a leading cause of injury, and even death, in the aging population. Educating seniors on exercises and other wellness-related topics will hopefully help the attendees be less likely to have a fall.”
Student Hannah Freeburg, of Ridgway, said the educational value in the exercise was very helpful, and something she can put to good use both as a professional and with her own family.
“I think the program was great information for me to take with me in my future career,” Freeburg said. “I will be able to help people figure out whether they have safety hazards that might need to be fixed in their homes. I can also share this information with my parents and grandparents to learn about fall prevention.”
Alexis Cowburn, a student from Bradford, said the discussion with residents and the educational component were especially helpful.
“I felt really good about the fall prevention program. I can use this group setting as a preparation for working with older adults to protect them from falling,” she said. “This really helped me become a better future OT practitioner because I was able to discuss different topics with different people and situations. It’s important to be able to connect with clients no matter what situation they are in.”
Classmate Heather Jones, from Binghamton, New York, agreed that programs like fall prevention are vital to rounding out her education.
“Overall, I enjoyed the Fall Prevention Program. It was very beneficial for me and will assist me within my future career as an OTA. I was able to discuss the different topics within a group setting on how to prevent falls within different environments. The Fall Prevent Program is not only useful for elderly but also for everyday education,” said Jones.
Graduates of the Penn State DuBois OTA program will continue to serve their community members by offering educational programs and therapy that will help people to stay safe in their home and to recover from injuries. Career Opportunities for graduates include working in public and private schools; early intervention programs; general, psychiatric and pediatric hospitals; day treatment centers, hospices and home health agencies; rehabilitation hospitals and centers; and more. For more information on the Penn State DuBois Occupational Therapy Assistant program, visit https://dubois.psu.edu/ota.
For those interested in learning more about the Penn State DuBois OTA program, an OTA Visitation Day is planned for Wednesday, Oct. 20. To register, go to www.dubois.psu.edu/visit or call 814-375-4720.