As many older Americans are aging and living longer, they’ll need extra care and support to remain well, safe and independent in their homes.
During Older Americans Month – Age Out Loud, we join in supporting healthy, active and independent lives for older adults. Our Suncoast PACE care team delivers comprehensive medical care and support services to Pinellas County senior citizens facing the challenges of chronic health conditions, aging and daily living at home.
One of PACE’s specialized therapies celebrating its centennial this year is occupational therapy. In this Q&A, two of our PACE occupational therapy staff discusses the education and interventions they provide to help improve safety, function and quality of life for participants and families.
Q&A: Elizabeth “Lizzie” Proleika, OTR (registered occupational therapist) and Terry Lindstam, COTA (certified occupational therapist assistant)
1. What’s your background?
Proleika: I’ve been an occupational therapist (OT) for 20 years. It’s a very broad field. I’ve worked in pediatrics, school system and outpatient settings and the last five years in geriatrics at our Suncoast PACE Day Center. I help mentor Terry, our occupational therapy assistant, who’s studying for her master’s as an occupational therapist. This mentoring opportunity keeps me learning and going.
Lindstam: I’ve been working in the field for almost three years. It’s a total transformation for me. I used to do sales and marketing for almost 20 years and my department was downsized. I was looking to do something different and one of my best friends was an OT who enjoyed her job. I love it here at PACE. Lizzie has been doing a great job mentoring me.
2. Why did you want to work at PACE?
Proleika: Working many years in pediatrics with profoundly, disabled children and their parents got very difficult and had a high burnout. I’m on the other spectrum now. I enjoy having the rapport and conversations with our participants.
3. How do you see older Americans aging today?
Proleika: One of the biggest things with aging in place is longevity. People are living longer and coming up against debilitating conditions. The primary conditions we see are dementia and Alzheimer’s. Some psychological conditions are secondary across the board. A lot of our participants have physical and cognitive limitations.
4. What treatment and education do you provide?
Proleika: We work as a team with our PACE physical therapists, speech therapists and social workers. Our goal is to help participants stay at home safely and independently.
With occupational therapy, we teach participants and families new skills to handle activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IDLs). ADLs include feeding, eating, dressing, grooming, bathing and other self-care activities. IDLs include shopping, cooking, checkbook accounting and other household and leisure activities.
Our job is to work with participants who have surgeries or chronic conditions, such as arthritis or a disability. At our center or in their home settings, we help them regain strength, motor coordination or other skills that have been lost. We may recommend adaptive equipment or changes to their environment, whatever they need to complete tasks.
Some of the work we do may be getting weighted utensils or other special feeding equipment so participants can eat easier, which brings them more dignity. We do a lot of management of stroke and other health issues with the departments of aging. When there’s a contracture with joints, we’re called to put in conditioning splints. We tend to specialize in the upper body while our physical therapists typically specialize in the lower body and walking devices.
Lindstam: On a daily basis the treatment varies for participants. It might be arthritis exercises, joint protection techniques and proper body mechanics for tasks at home so they gain muscle strength and don’t further damage their joints. We always emphasize safety, having them slow down and pace themselves.
5. How do you work with families?
Proleika: Whatever we do with participants we teach families. It may be how to put on a splint correctly and manage care for it or how to provide stretching and home exercise programs for those who are more bedbound. A lot more people are living with limited vision or total blindness and need to learn how to compensate with those conditions. We can help modify environments and help families get their loved ones walking. Terry worked with one participant who eventually was able to put on his socks and shoes himself again.
Lindstam: We can teach participants at our center and they can practice these skills at home. When they can do it themselves with compensation and equipment, it’s so rewarding. It gives them a lot of pride. It’s what’s important to each specific person, whether it’s putting shoes on, cooking or another activity that person wishes to do.
6. What are the benefits of joining PACE?
Proleika: One of the biggest benefits is socialization. Isolation is a major issue with aging adults. We see a lot of people in pretty bad shape, living alone and not going out, but when they come into our program they really blossom and are part of a community. Our participants get medical care, therapy and meals they need at our center and our aides can go to their homes to do personal care and home making. Our team encourages everyone to stay as active as possible, whether at home with leisure activities or participating in our groups at our center. We feel the ones who stay well and thrive are the ones who stay active. It’s such a wonderful program.
7. How does your job enrich your life?
Proleika: PACE has enriched my life very much because I have the opportunity and the blessing to work with such amazing participants as well as our staff members. We truly are an interdisciplinary team and I feel very lucky to be part of it. It’s a great program for therapists because we can work with our team to provide holistic treatment and have the freedom to give time to our participants. I go home and feel like we’re making a difference. When we started our program, we had about 70 participants and now we’ve grown to more than 300. Most of our staff really knows our participants very well and have that personal touch. I love this program, it’s so unique and special.
Lindstam: It’s very welcoming and I enjoy the one-on-one experiences and whole atmosphere. It touches my heart to hear the personal stories of our participants. To see them get healthier is so rewarding. They motivate me.
We’re Here to Help
If you or a loved one have challenges living at home with an illness, give us a call to find out if you’re eligible for Suncoast PACE.
Call (727) 289-0062, (866) 458-2933 (toll free) or (800) 955-8771 (hearing impaired).
Watch this video to see how Suncoast PACE changed the lives of two beloved sisters.