Student collaboration addresses fall risk for seniors

Three departments within East Carolina University’s College of Allied Health Sciences recently spent a day helping local seniors while teaching students the importance of collaborating with other disciplines.

The unique interprofessional senior fall risk assessment training exercise took place at the Black Jack Free Will Baptist Church on July 14. Students from the Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and Physician’s Assistant (PA) programs were placed into groups composed of at least one student from each department and assigned patients. Senior citizens who volunteered to participate were evaluated to determine any unknown factors they may have that put them at a higher risk for falling.

Students assist a volunteer as she takes an eye exam during the College of Allied Health Sciences’ senior fall risk assessment training exercise on July 14.(Photo by Alyssa De Santis Figiel)

Students assist a volunteer as she takes an eye exam during the College of Allied Health Sciences’ senior fall risk assessment training exercise on July 14.(Photo by Alyssa De Santis Figiel)

“As seniors, they’ll have different health conditions that could result in an increase for fall risk. So by participating in this free activity, they’re learning about what those potential risks are and also how to address them to reduce their chances for falling,” said Dr. Jennifer Radloff, an assistant professor for the Department of Occupational Therapy at ECU and one of the event organizers.

Evaluations included PA students studying the seniors’ medical history to look for potential fall indicators, such as medications that may cause dizziness; PT students administering a mini balance assessment and OT students doing a vision assessment. Students also analyzed the seniors’ ability to use stairs, transition from sitting to standing, and turn quickly when walking. Those who were found to have greater chances of falling were provided with resources to continue their care and fall prevention.

The training exercise is noteworthy as it combines community service with education and gives students an opportunity to speak with others in different professions to discuss and compare each discipline’s responsibilities.

“I learned a lot of things I could incorporate into my own practice even though it’s not directly part of our assessment as a physician’s assistant,” said Kasey Briggs, a PA student who participated in the fall assessments.

Radloff praised the event as an excellent pre-emptive learning experience before students begin their required internships. Students expressed their appreciation for being given the opportunity to work collaboratively with other professions in a non-simulated experience.

“It helps solidify the fact that for patient care, it’s a team approach. Each person has skills to contribute,” said PT student Josh Schiemann.

PA student Sydney Pilgrim connected the experience to her previous work in healthcare.

“I actually worked in an ICU before I came here, and it was really cool because we did actually have PTs, OTs and PAs working together in the same unit. So it was nice to incorporate that into our studies because it really is like that in the real world,” Pilgrim said.

A third-year PT student who participated last year, Amalia Kondyles, returned to observe this year’s event and reflect on the value of the experience.

“I got to see the students learn things they didn’t learn in the classroom,” Kondyles said. “We’ve learned how to conduct these tests, but to actually do it on a real patient that doesn’t know how the test works, you start to realize the certain cues that don’t make sense. You see the students learn how to be PTs.”

If you would like to volunteer as a patient in next year’s event, please contact Dr. Jennifer Radloff at radloffj@ecu.edu or Dr. Kim Stokes at stokesc@ecu.edu.

 

-by Angela Todd, University Communications