Strategies recommended by therapists for fall-prevention

By Jaya Pal
School of Physiotherapy, Centre for Physiotherapy Research, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Although studies have established that falls and fall-related injuries are a problem for individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) there is limited research on appropriate fall prevention strategies for this population.

What did you do in your research?
We interviewed eight therapists (physiotherapists and occupational therapists) in New Zealand to understand the fundamental principles adapted for managing fall-related issues for people with ID. The participants (all female) volunteered for the study and had worked for the same organization (serving over 700 persons with ID of all ages and levels of impairment) for 1-25 years. Six interviews were conducted face to face and two were conducted by telephone due to distance. Each interview lasted between 30 and 90 minutes.

What did you find out?
From the interviews, five categories were highlighted: The Role of therapists - Physiotherapists and occupational therapists worked together during the initial assessment and discussed appropriate treatment options. 
Strategies - Successful strategies included the use of suitable walking devices, making environmental modifications, promoting exercise, and educating support staff.
Justification of strategies - Therapists used 'problem solving' and 'trial and error methods' to come up with possible strategies.
Barriers – There are a shortage of support staff, limited funding environmental problems, and individual issues.
Future strategies – There is a need for additional funding and training of support staff.

What are the take-home messages?
Other therapists working with people with ID could use or employ the strategies mentioned in this study. These strategies are environmental modifications, participation in physical activity and exercise, use of assistive mobility devices, and education around safe mobility. In addition, future research can focus on determining the effectiveness of the strategies discussed.

To learn more about these findings contact Jaya Pal.

Full Journal Article
Pal, J., Hale, L., & Mirfin-Veitch, B. (2013). Experiences of Therapists Trying to Reduce Falls Risk for People With Intellectual Disability. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 10, 314–320.