INDIANAPOLIS — There is no place like home. Just ask the nearly 90 percent of older adults who wish to live in their current home for as long as they can. However, this wish may be compromised if they cannot manage daily needs.
A decline in muscle strength due to age and sedentary lifestyle is usually what undermines older adults’ ability to live independently. Having to depend on others to complete self-care tasks places these individuals at risk for placement in a nursing home, said Chiung-ju Liu, an assistant professor of Occupational Therapy in the IU School of Health and Rehabilitation Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Liu designed a 10-week “3-Step Workout for Life” exercise program to help older adults regain their muscle strength and maintain independence. Liu and Dan Clark, a senior scientist from the IU Center for Aging Research, are testing the feasibility of the program with funding from the IU Roybal Center for Translational Research and the Retirement Research Foundation.
Aging and the loss of muscle strength is a gradual process, Liu said.
“Older adults may not realize that they are losing muscle strength and that this loss may force them to give up things that they used to do,” she said. “They give up little by little — first making fewer trips for grocery shopping, cooking less often, and then taking fewer showers.”
The phrase “Use it or lose it” applies here, she said. “The next thing you know they are far down the path to disablement.”
Just as physicians prescribe medications to combat diseases, occupational therapists use everyday activities as a therapeutic medium to help people with physical, mental or developmental conditions live independently.
The first half of the “3-Step Workout for Life” program focuses on increasing muscle strength and physical fitness. The second half focuses on applying the physical benefits reaped from exercise to performing daily activities that are essential and meaningful for older adults to live independently at home, such as taking a shower.
“This is a 10-week therapeutic workout program to improve and maintain older adults’ independence at home,” Liu said. “In other words, my research is trying to decrease older adults’ chance of developing disabling conditions and needing rehabilitation therapy.”
The IU School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences is on the IUPUI campus in downtown Indianapolis and houses five major health science programs: Health Sciences, Nutrition and Dietetics, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, and Physician Assistant Studies. Current research labs within the school include the Center for Translational Musculoskeletal Research, Advanced Neurorehabilitation Research Lab, Pulmonary Physiology Lab, Community Mobility and Participation in Society, Silver Hoosiers Health and Aging Research Lab, and Driving Safety and Rehabilitation Research Lab.