Opportunities for OTD Students Interested in Working with Older Adults

Jill Linder, DHSc, OTR, CBIS, CSRS
As the number of individuals over the age of 65 increases, so do the opportunities for OTs.

As the number of individuals over the age of 65 increases, so do the opportunities for occupational therapists and OTD students interested in working with this population. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) has identified driving, community mobility, fall prevention, and home modification as important areas to address with the aging population.

National initiatives aimed at reducing healthcare expenditures place emphasis on community programs to maintain health and prevent injuries among older adults. Occupational therapists possess the skills and training to address the needs of older adults and should be at the forefront of such programs. Community program development is an excellent capstone opportunity for OTD students and a great way to provide health and wellness opportunities for older adults.

Driving and Community Mobility

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States has an estimated 48 million licensed drivers over age 65, a number expected to increase by 2030. With aging comes a decline in vision, cognition, flexibility, and reaction speed, all of which can impact safety behind the wheel. Driving is a vital means of maintaining independence, and driving cessation can result in isolation, health decline, and decreased quality of life. Many older adults can benefit from driving assessments for strategies to maintain driving independence and community mobility education and training when driving is no longer a safe means of transportation.

The Occupational Therapy Practice Framework categorizes driving and community mobility as Instrumental Activities of Daily Living within the occupational therapy scope of practice. As the population ages, the development of driving assessment and community mobility training programs will become increasingly important.

Areas of community program opportunities for driving and community mobility:  

  • Driving simulator training
  • On-the-road training programs
  • Community mobility training programs focused on alternative transportation options
  • Community exercise for physical strength and flexibility

Fall Prevention and Home Modification

According to the National Council on Aging, one-fourth of Americans over age 65 fall each year, and falls are the leading cause of death and injuries among older adults. As individuals age, they experience changes in visual acuity, sensation, strength, and flexibility, increasing their risk of falls. Recent initiatives to decrease hospital readmissions have sparked the development of fall prevention programs.

Fall prevention clinics apply a multidisciplinary approach to reduce falls among older adults. Clinics typically include physicians, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists who assess fall risk and develop and implement prevention strategies. As an integral team member, the occupational therapist often completes home assessments to determine modifications and adaptive equipment needs to make the home a safer environment and lessen the likelihood of falls. In addition to home assessments, occupational therapists can provide community education programs to educate older adults on techniques and adaptive equipment to improve home safety.

Areas of community program opportunities in fall prevention and home modification:

  • Community education on fall prevention and fall risk identification
  • Community education and training on adaptive equipment and home modifications

The healthcare shift towards health maintenance and wellness promotion offers many opportunities for program development. To meet the needs of the aging population, community programs are essential. The capstone portion of the OTD program provides an excellent opportunity for students to utilize the knowledge and skills they have acquired during their OT education to develop and implement community programs aimed at improving health and wellness for older adults.

Learn more about Huntington University’s Doctoral Program in Occupational Therapy at huntington.edu/OTD.

Written by
Jill Linder, DHSc, OTR, CBIS, CSRS