Students Targeting Balance, Car Safety For Seniors
Ann Stevens has been receiving treatment for Parkinson’s disease at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute for nine years.
But on this day, it's her husband, Jim, who's taking a balance test.
"Any instability, you can grab the handrails," occupational therapy student Brittany Galloway instructed Stevens as a platform on the machine he was standing on slowly oscillated up and down.
The 76-year-old Tarpon Springs resident is concerned about his balance because of the one-two punch of a stroke in 2012 and a fall last year that left him with a sprained wrist.
"It was right in front of my house, right in the middle of the street, and fortunately a friend was walking by and a guy down the street was doing an air conditioning check and he came running up, and between the two of them, they got me up," Stevens said.
The screening was part of the Byrd Institute’s Senior Safety and Falls Prevention Day.
"We have presentations on exercises that can help prevent falls," Institute occupational therapist Lori Grismore said. "We also have a presentation on nutrition and the importance of that, and on fall prevention and what types of things people can do to prevent falls."
Some of those suggestions for seniors include keeping your home well-lit and floors clutter free, particularly by removing throw rugs. And if someone does fall, Grismore said, they should talk to someone else about it.
"If people have a fall, [don't] feel ashamed or be embarrassed to talk to their family member or their physician about it, because it’s so important, because there’s so many things that could cause a fall," Grismore said. "So I just encourage people to be open and communicate with their doctors and their family members because that’s the only way we can prevent further falls."
USF Health doesn’t offer an occupational therapy degree, but occupational therapy students from Nova Southeastern University’s Tampa campus worked with Byrd clinicians in screening seniors’ balance and vision.
"That’s important because sometimes seniors can get lots of different diseases like glaucoma, cataracts, or they can have things happen with their vision that they’re not aware of, and that can alert them to go see their eye doctor or ophthalmologist to find out how they can get that corrected," Grismore added.
"It’s designed to check the fit between older drivers and their cars," Dennis McCarthy, Associate Professor of occupational therapy at Nova Southeastern, said.
"Make sure that they’re using their safety equipment correctly, that a seatbelt goes over the clavicle and around the hips, distance from the airbag and the steering wheel is sufficient in case of a crash. We also check their lights and tires and things like that, to make sure everything’s working properly."
"We do a walk around and examine the car, look for dents and scrapes and things like that, too," McCarthy added. "So, we’re looking for their physical ability, which of course affects a person’s ability to drive safely, as well as maybe telltale signs of scrapes or dents, which might suggest a person is having difficulty with driving."
McCarthy is grateful the Byrd Institute gave his students a chance to get some ‘in the field experience.’
"I think it’s really, really valuable for the students. They get to interact with seniors, they get to see some of the problems that some of them might have," he said. "But, most of all, there’s always someone who comes through one of these events that we can make a difference in their lives, or perhaps make their driving a little bit more safe."
People interested in setting up an appointment with the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute's Occupational Therapy department for services including fall prevention and driver safety assessment can visit their website or call 813-396-0728.