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Home-Based Program Extends Seniors' Lives
Date:4/7/2009

Combo of physical therapy, household changes added 3.5 years on average, study found

TUESDAY, April 7 (HealthDay News) -- A home-based program for seniors that includes occupational and physical therapy, as well as some minor home modifications, can help people live longer, new research found.

In fact, people who received this intervention gained an average 3.5 years of lifespan compared to those who didn't, according to researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

"This is an extremely promising intervention," said study author Laura Gitlin, director of the Jefferson Center for Applied Research on Aging and Health, and a professor in the department of Occupational Therapy at the university.

Gitlin said the researchers were somewhat surprised by the study's findings because they initially hadn't hypothesized that the intervention would provide any sort of survival benefit.

"This is what we call a serendipitous finding," she said. "When we looked at people who had been hospitalized before the study, we noted an incredible survivorship -- 0 percent had died in the intervention group compared to 21 percent in the control group. We were startled to see this difference emerge, and we wanted to see if it lasted."

Results of the new study came from following the participants for four years after the intervention began. The work was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Aging, and the results were published in the March issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The study group included 319 people with an average age of 79 who were still living at home but were just beginning to encounter some functional challenges. Gitlin said the challenges could be minor, such as having trouble bending to pick something up or difficulty opening jars, to more significant problems, such as not being able to get in and out of the tub, or to button clothing anymore.


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