Note: In 2011, AOTA identified the aging workforce as an emerging niche in occupational therapy. It has since become more mainstream, so newer content appears elsewhere on this site. This page has been retained for historical information. Learn more about the 2011 Emerging Niche series here.
Why emerging? The baby boomer generation is reaching retirement age, but many are choosing to postpone retirement, either for financial or personal reasons. A study by AARP found that in the past 20 years, the oldest group of workers (75 years and older) has increased enormously.1 An aging workforce brings about many issues for employers, many of which occupational therapy practitioners are poised to address.
Get Involved! Older workers face many age-induced limitations such as changes in vision, hearing, dexterity, and response time, according to Karen Jacobs, EdD, OTR/L, CPE, FAOTA. "Employers need to create work environments that cater to aging eyes, make tools that require less strength to use, and create workplaces with adjustable heights for sitting and standing—these are also all good general ergonomic strategies," says Jacobs.
Jacobs believes that practitioners can strategize about working with the aging workforce by identifying and targeting populations of workers that statistics show have a large aging workforce, such as elementary and middle school teachers, librarians, nurses, home health aides, cashiers, etc. "I can see occupational therapists working in the school system saying, 'I work with kids, but I have a colleague who specializes in older people'" says Jacobs. "You can introduce them and they might help with the aging teacher population." Practitioners can also volunteer their time and give talks about the aging workforce at service clubs and the chamber of commerce.
Jacobs believes that practitioners can advise older workers by directing them to companies that are seeking out older workers, helping them to network and realize that their skills are desirable to potential employers, and assisting them with finding volunteer positions. "OTs can work with employers to encourage flexible working arrangements and we can help make changes to the home environment so that older workers can telecommute," says Jacobs.
- OT Practice articles:
- AOTA Quarterly Article:
1. Span, P. (2010, December 22). Toil and trouble. Retrieved March 17, 2011, from http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/22/toil-and-trouble/
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