DuBOIS, Pa.— As faculty members at Penn State DuBois continue to innovate methods of virtual instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, some have also developed ways to reach out to the community in unique ways. Director of the Penn State DuBois Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program LuAnn Demi worked to adapt her usual fall-prevention program for senior citizens to a virtual presentation via Zoom this October.
Demi and her students typically offer a fall-prevention program for area seniors each year, entering senior centers in the region and sharing tips and instructions on exercise and self-care. This year, due to restrictions put in place as a result of the pandemic, entering those facilities was not an option. So Demi designed a virtual program and reached out to three offices of the Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging (CCAAA) located in Clearfield, Mahaffey, and Houtzdale. More than two dozen seniors participated in the programs from those locations, connecting with students on Zoom.
“When I first considered how to engage our students in the traditional service-learning program of Fall Prevention and Wellness to senior citizens, I was skeptical how this virtual format would work,” Demi recalled. “Luckily, the buy-in from the CCAAA was so positive that I was very motivated to make this work for everyone involved. The program was a success. I led the students in presenting three sessions of education and exercises designed to keep seniors safe and decrease the risk of falling. Due to the success of this virtual program, I can see how other learning opportunities and outreach is possible as well. It’s different, but the learning opportunities offered to the students are still beneficial.”
Student Paige Price, of Marienville, Pennsylvania, said of the experience, “When we become OTAs we may often need to facilitate a group. We need to learn how to be a leader and lead the group through the process. Watching our teacher gave us a wonderful opportunity to see, in person, how this can be done. With the state of the world, it was comforting knowing that we could still help people in our community.”
The students and Demi guided seniors through exercises that they can continue at home that will help to improve strength and balance, with the goal of preventing falls that could cause severe injury or prove fatal. They also offered tips on precautions individuals can take around their homes to further diminish fall risk. Those tips included the use of adequate lighting in the home, checking to make sure rugs and carpets are not loose and presenting a risk of tripping, and to keep walkways clear of clutter.
"I believe that this experience has made me more confident in educating my future patients with precautions that they can take to prevent falls,” said student Lexey Shick, of Rimersburg, Pennsylvania. “As an OTA, I will work with clients and caregivers to review the home environment for hazards and evaluate my clients for limitations that contribute to falls.”
Demi shared that she has been impressed with how students have adapted to these alternative learning environments. She said, “The students have adapted very well to remote learning. They are flexible and patient, and very helpful with some of the technology issues that arise. I appreciate their positivity as we adapt to new learning situations.”
Student Aspen Bishop, of Clearfield, Pennsylvania, said, “This remote experience has helped me because during this pandemic it has provided me with the many different ways we can implement education to others in the future.”
Price agreed with her classmate, saying, “This experience allowed me to not miss out on a very important part of our occupational therapy education. We were able to participate in facilitating a group while sticking to the pandemic guidelines. This was an opportunity to take a situation that would normally be in person and use technology to get very important information out to the community.”
Schick also expressed gratitude for the virtual learning opportunity, sharing, “This remote experience helped to provide quality education because we were able to interact and provide resources and information that will be helpful to those older adults. Even though we could not be in person, I still feel like we were able to educate everyone to our best ability.”
Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury among senior citizens. According to the National Council on Aging, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall every 11 seconds in the United States, and every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
Graduates of the Penn State DuBois OTA program will continue to serve their community members by offering educational programs and therapy that will help people to stay safe in their home and to recover from injuries. Career opportunities for graduates include working in public and private schools; early intervention programs; general, psychiatric and pediatric hospitals; day treatment centers; hospices and home health agencies; rehabilitation hospitals and centers; and more. For more information on the Penn State DuBois Occupational Therapy Assistant program visit https://dubois.psu.edu/ota.