Jefferson team designs program that helps elderly perform daily living tasks and live longer

Philadelphia -- A Thomas Jefferson University team has found that a personalized program of occupational and physical therapy plus modifications in the home can go a long way to help elderly individuals continue to live independently and also live longer.

Laura Gitlin, Ph.D., director of the Center for Applied Research on Aging and Health at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and her team reported previously that a brief six-visit program consisting of physical therapy, occupational therapy, home modification and some instruction in problem-solving helped elderly individuals in performing daily activities. After six months, those of the 319 men and women ages 70 and older enrolled in the study who received the intervention had fewer difficulties with daily living tasks, especially personal care activities such as bathing and going to the toilet, than those who did not receive the help. Intervention participants were less afraid of falling, had more confidence in their abilities to manage everyday activities and used more effective coping strategies.

In a 14-month followup study, Dr. Gitlin, who is professor of occupational therapy at the College of Health Professions of Thomas Jefferson University, and her co-workers report in the current issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society that the efforts had an even larger benefit.

They found that 1 percent of those receiving the intervention had died, compared to 10 percent in the control group. During the same 14-month period, of 31 participants who had been previously hospitalized and who received the intervention, none died. In contrast, in the control group, 21 percent who had been hospitalized died.

"These results appear to confirm that we are helping people address functional difficulties that in turn offsets further decline," Dr. Gitlin says. "As people age, they often confront difficulties in carrying out everyday activities due to age-related changes and ch

Contact: Steve Benowitz
Thomas Jefferson University

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