In Prince William, free screenings allow Howard U. students to test skills, help seniors

February 6, 2013

Florence Swenson used to play golf every day. About 30 years ago, she made a hole in one on the course behind her house.

Last week, the 91-year-old resident of Westminster at Lake Ridge, who spent three years in the Navy during World War II, was in the communities’ health center for a medical screening by Howard University physical therapy students.

In addition to reviewing Swenson’s medical history and checking her blood pressure and body mass index, second-year students Javier Jackson and Zuri Williams were testing her balance and assessing her risk for falling.

Swenson has never fallen, but she does use a walker. Being able to identify the proper mobility device is one of the areas in which a physical therapist comes in, said Bunni Dybnis, director of professional services for LivHome in Los Angeles and a fellow with the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers.

Falling is a huge issue for older adults, Dybnis said. “If a 90-year-old falls, all bets are off. It’s heartbreaking,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three adults 65 and older will fall each year. Of those who fall, nearly 30 percent will suffer injuries that affect their ability to get around or live independently.

The free screenings sought to gauge whether the seniors were safe living independently and to promote independence, Howard University associate professor Spiridon Karavatas said.

The 20 students, who will graduate from Howard in December with a doctorate in physical therapy, checked the wear on the bottom of shoes, the rubber tips on canes and walkers and provided recommendations, such as reviewing prescriptions with a physician and removing throw rugs, which can be a hazard.

For the students, the service project was a chance to put together what they’ve learned in the classroom into practice, Karavatas said.

Student Henry Francis originally planned to pursue sports medicine but has since switched his focus to geriatric and acute care.

“The ability to get out of bed and take a shower is a lot more vital than an athlete returning to sports,” Francis said. “I’m happier to see a person get back to regular life.”

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