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by Michael Byrne

The Department of Occupational Therapy has been awarded a $1 million
federal grant to study the effectiveness of occupational therapy as a
means of enhancing health and well-being and maintaining independence
among elderly people.

The three-year grant is funded by the National Institute of Aging, the
Agency for Health Care Policy Research, the National Committee on
Medical Rehabilitation Research and the American Occupational Therapy
Foundation. It is the largest multi-agency grant ever awarded to an
occupational therapy department in the United States.

The study will focus on multiethnic, low-income well-elderly – those
who are healthy enough to take care of themselves – in urban Los

“This is a switch from the traditional approach of focusing on already
existing health problems in the elderly and instead addressing
lifestyle and health-promotion strategies for people who are still
well,” said Florence Clark, chair of the Department of Occupational
Therapy and co-principal investigator on the project. “Allied health
research has not been funded to a large degree before this grant.”

According to Clark, the aim of the project is to study the
effectiveness of group occupational therapy on the subjects in relation
to its overall impact on quality of life, physical health and ability
to remain independent.

“Society will spend more to house and care for people in nursing homes
and extended care facilities than it would cost to provide them with
training and education on ways to prevent illness and accidents,” Clark

The methods being studied include preventive measures to reduce
accidents and resulting injury in the home and daily activities that
encourage a balance of work, rest and play.

“Occupational therapy has been a part of health care for more than 70
years, and we are very eager to gather the information from this study
and hopefully design services to help avoid illness and reduce health
care costs for older people now as well as for future generations,”
Clark said.

The study 345 participants will be drawn from residents at Angelus
Plaza, a large retirement center for low-income elderly, and those
attending its senior activity center.

The multidisciplinary team of USC researchers includes Clark and
co-principal investigators Stanley Azen, professor and director,
Department of Biometry; Loren Lipson, chief of geriatric medicine; and
Ruth Zemke, associate professor, Department of Occupational Therapy;
and co-investigator Jeanne Jackson, doctoral candidate in the
Department of Occupational Therapy.

[Photo:] Florence Clark: “Allied health research has not been funded to
a large degree before this grant.”


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