Physical therapy student project helps older adults prevent falls

D.P.T. student Deanna Lu administers the Five-times Sit-to-Stand test, which is a test for dynamic balance and lower extremity power.

Last fall, Radford University Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.) students participated in a fall risk assessment clinical experiential activity at Friendship Health and Living in Roanoke, Virginia. The students, who are part of the D.P.T. Class of 2023, worked with approximately 30 older adults to assess their likelihood of losing their balance and falling, causing injury. Those who needed it were then referred for therapy admission.

During the activity, the older adults took several tests to assess their mobility, including the Timed Up and Go test, the Functional Gait Assessment, the 10-meter Walk test, the Berg Balance scale, the Five-times Sit-to-Stand test and the Activities-specific Balance Confidence scale.

“This activity served a dual purpose as a learning opportunity for our students,” said Arco Paul, Ph.D., PT, NCS, assistant professor in the D.P.T. program, “but also as a community service for the clinical partners at Friendship.”

D.P.T. student Aaron VanRavestein agreed, saying that community-oriented service projects like this one are important for students because physical therapy, like many healthcare-related careers, is a profession dedicated to serving others.

“One of the reasons all of us decided to pursue physical therapy is to help others, and opportunities like this one allow us to give back,” VanRavestein said. “For the participants, this activity provided them with valuable free access to evaluations that can improve the quality of their lives. That means a lot to those of us who want to support others.”

D.P.T. student Aaron VanRavestein (right) and a fellow student explain the Timed Up and Go test to a participant.

Madison Vick, another D.P.T. student who was part of the activity, said she found the experience gained during the event to be very beneficial and highly rewarding — especially considering recent events involving health.

“As a physical therapy student who began her D.P.T. study amid the global pandemic, I quickly realized how valuable hands-on experiences are,” Vick recalled. “While we often practice our new skills on our classmates, having an opportunity to work with patients displaying legitimate impairments allows us to expand our critical thinking skills and prepares us for our clinical practice. It was great to see how motivated and grateful the volunteers we assessed were.”

Vick said that she earned a minor in gerontology at her undergraduate institution, requiring her to spend a lot of time in nursing home facilities. She said that working with these communities taught her how beneficial and enjoyable these interactions can be no matter what the activity is.

“One of the residents I worked with was particularly emotional due to her life circumstances,” Vick said. “While this situation challenged my classmates and me as to how to best manage her needs, I am grateful to have been able to work with this individual and to serve as an empathetic sounding board for her. Opportunities such as these are what make these community-oriented experiences so valuable.”

D.P.T. student Madison Vick administers the Berg Balance Scale, which tests balance using specific sitting and standing tasks.

D.P.T. student Deanna Lu said she felt that the activity was significant for the health and well-being of the community and the volunteers who participated.

“I feel that our class made a big impact on the community because they let us know how thankful they were for our time and the education we provided them with,” Lu said. “All the residents that attended the screening left with knowledge of their fall risk status and if referral to physical therapy was necessary.”

Lu said that experiences like this one are part of why the D.P.T. program, which is based at Radford University Carilion in Roanoke, is such a wonderful way to learn and become a physical therapist.

“Moving forward, experiences like this will ultimately help me build confidence when interacting with patients and practice utilizing the knowledge I learned in the classroom to a real-life scenario,” Lu said. “They ultimately provide us with a way to teach, learn from and collaborate with people in our community to positively influence the health of society as a whole.”

Jan 28, 2022
Mark Lambert