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Iona College - Student Roundtable - Virtual Home Assessments

OT Student Participants


Hailey Burke '23

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Dean Kuldraree '23

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Daniel O'Brien '23

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Gurpreet Singh '22

Gianna Vento '23

Carolyn Sithong, CEO and Founder of Home for Life Design, recently sat down with Iona College OT students to discuss their recent success & experience launching virtual home safety assessments for older adults in New Rochelle, NY. 

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Carolyn Sithong:  First off, we want to thank you Hailey, Dean, Gianna, Daniel, and Gurpreet for joining us today, we really appreciate it.  Really excited to be talking with you, and learning about your experience with Home for Life Design in your classroom and community. 

I'm Carolyn Sithong, founder of Home for Life Design®.  I'm also an OT professor, and have been an occupational therapist for over 20 years.  So I'm just so glad that you all have the opportunity to use our solution and that we're able to discuss how you brought a virtual home assessment to life.  

So my first question is, tell us a little about your experience using our application for your virtual home assessment project?  

Gurpreet Singh:  For myself, personally, I used this assessment at peak pandemic. So there was a lot of nervousness going into it. And I felt uncertain about how I would be able to go to this person’s home and provide them with relevant information.  But I think that assessment in itself was really great at guiding.  Which is really important at a student level, especially giving us something to refer back to.  In terms of being able to provide those recommendations, I didn't fully expect that I would go into so many of the psycho-social elements but that was something that was really prevalent in my assessment.  We ended up having a deeper conversation about some of the age-related changes and the emotional responses that my client was having towards them. So, I think the application was wonderful in getting into some of those deeper, deeper things as well.  And I felt really empowered. And I think clients felt empowered that there are things that can be done and there's still ways that you can maintain your independence. 

Sithong: I really love how you brought forth that you were able to kind of shift the problem of aging, not necessarily on your clients, but in the areas around her right? Things just weren't working for her anymore but, there's still an opportunity for her to function there.  So I appreciate that you were able to guide her and walk her through some of those.  How about you Hailey?


Hailey Burke: So I did the assessment over Zoom with my client, but it actually worked out well because I ended up teaching him how to use his phone on Zoom.  That way, it's easier for him to go around and video record each of his rooms. And as he was doing that, I was able to screenshot each one of them.  The tool was easily accessible, very easy to use, very self-explanatory. I like the way the app is easily divided into all of the rooms that would be in the person's house. I really enjoyed all of the recommendations as far as the modifications in the home, such as the adaptive equipment that can be provided for the person based on their needs. And I also like that it allowed you to upload photos. 

Dean Kuldraree: I think Hailey hit a lot of good points. I also thought the home recommendations were interesting. Before I went to my LIRIC member’s house, I pretty much went through the software because I just wanted to familiarize myself with what products are available out there.  So I thought it was a good tool to use to see what kind of bathroom modifications are there and stuff like that. I also practiced on my friend to get ready for the actual assignment. 

Gianna Vento: I also thought it was super user friendly.  I did my evaluation over FaceTime.  So I was a little bit nervous going in not knowing how it was really going to play out.  But I found that the app was really useful.  And for the recommendations and modifications, I really liked how they had pictures of some of the products that we were talking about.  For example, I would ask the client if she was aware of a certain grab bar, and obviously, she wouldn't know what the exact term was.  So using the app and being on FaceTime was honestly really helpful because I was just able to turn my camera around and I could show her the product photo and say, "This is what I was talking about. Have you thought about this? Is this what you're talking about when you mentioned a grab bar?" It made it easier to be on the same page with the client with things.  I do tend to get nervous with client interviews.  So it was good seeing the different modifications. The app helped me work my way through it (the home assessment). So I thought it was really helpful.


Sithong: So do you mean the interface cued you to what to suggest or to move on to? Is that what you're saying was helpful?  

Gianna Vento: Definitely. If I got hung up, and I didn't really know where to go next, the app was a good help. I like switching to the next room and seeing the play-by-play list of what there was to do next. So it helps me navigate. 

Sithong: That's great feedback. How about you Daniel? 

Daniel O-Brien: So like everyone was saying, it was definitely easy to use, very accessible. I felt like it was a great learning tool.  For example, many of the modifications I didn't know myself. So it was great seeing it there and learning with the resident (the person that I did the home evaluation on).  The product pictures were very helpful. The app allowed structure too, to the home evaluation. So going over the goals, and just seeing the rooms and having a place to put photos and everything. It really was a great layout of how a home assessment is practiced.

Community Engagement

Sithong:  So your class partnered with the LIRIC community at Iona for this project.  (Learning in Retirement at Iona College).   This is a group of older adults aged 65-105.   How do you think this project and using this tool helped you engage with LIRIC members in their own home? 

Hailey Burke: I think for one, it just showed me a lot of the different kind of products that are offered to enhance individual safety and promote positive aging. I think it's really helpful in the sense that we can closely monitor different areas of client’s home.  I also like the way that we can rate the safety of each room and this allows us to see really every aspect of their home and their environments.  For example, if they are at risk for falling or other health or safety risks, we can monitor that.  I like that we can monitor all of these areas at once and really make sure we're keeping up with patient safety. 

Dean Kuldraree: I like how the adults got to rate their own environment to what they're capable of doing and what kind of adaptive tools that they normally use.  Originally my home for life guy said that he didn't use any adaptive equipment.  But when I went to his house, he mentioned that he needed to use a step stool to get something.  I also noticed he needed to use a reacher.  So I feel like the program really just brings awareness to the individual to see what they really need in their day to day. 

Gianna Vento: I saw that when I was doing my home assessment, for example, in the kitchen, when she would do her personal safety score, she said she felt totally independent.  It was a 10.  She felt everything was easily accessible.  And then when I was asking her to demonstrate reaching to above head cabinets, she was struggling and said that she needed a step stool.  When trying to reach into the lower cabinet, it was hard for her to bend down.  So I think that the app is useful in helping the residents age in place and see where they're having troubles.  Because to her, she felt safe and felt everything was easily accessible.  But to me, it was different.  She was clearly struggling.  If she wants to live there and positively age, there are some changes that need to be made. And the home for life design was, it was perfect.  You could just type recommendations right in and there was different pictures of products I could show her that I thought might help.  So I think it was really useful. 

Student Innovation Leads Industry Shift

Sithong:  How do you feel that knowing that young OT professionals like you are the ones driving solutions like Home for Life Design and innovation like virtual home assessments to the aging in place market?  

Hailey Burke: I think it just adds to all of the honor and self rewarding feelings that we get by being a team. I think this is a great tool to use.  And I'm not surprised that an OT made it just because it is so convenient.  We are problem solvers for clients, we work to help their needs and allow them to feel that they're being heard.  And I think this is super convenient.  Especially when having to go and communicate with a client and ask them about things that they might not take into consideration during their everyday lives and during daily activities. For instance, I would even ask do you feel you want to change the temperature?  Do you want to add lighting?  Do you want the room to be more dark?  These are all things that I took into perspective because it allowed the client I was working with to really think about if this sounds like a good recommendation or a good tool to have or good idea.  So I think it's just it totally applies to everything that we do and everything that we are and, and how much we fully do care for clients and their engagement and occupations. 

Dean Kuldraree:  It just shows me that OT is an ever-growing field. And it just shows me that the future looks bright.

Gianna Vento:  I think that its definitely useful that an OT created this because you can definitely see that the solution comes in through the OT perspective.  So for example, if a PT made this, the question could be "Can the client walk around their room?" Yes, they can. But we're looking at it, “Do they feel safe? And I think that's more important because it's not just about okay, the patient walked across the room. That's great, but are they gonna fall? Do they feel safe? Do they think that they can confidently do this on their own. So I think that the OT making it from an OT perspective just makes it that much more better. 

Daniel O’Brien: I think the ones that went before me said it perfectly. Like Hailey said because of the way its structured and the things that we look at, you see here, which is great.  Personally it allowed me to feel confident because we are students and we're still in the learning process. We're still going over a lot of this information in class. But being able to have a picture of the products, a way to show it, solutions for them, that really helped build my confidence going into the home assessment. So just confidence mostly.


Gurpreet Singh: So I really appreciate the fact that it is an innovative way to have access to clients, even when we're not in person.  We kind of accidentally stumbled upon that while we were doing it.  But it is a great way for OTs doing telehealth, especially to still be able to provide the information they need to provide and still get the the full effect of their therapy transmitted over to the client that they're working with.  I also do think that it was very participation based, as everyone touched on.  It's really important from the OT perspective to look at things at any functional level while empowering the person by not taking away what they're able to do. 

Student Experience & Future Impact

Sithong: Compared to traditional home assessments of the past, what would you say is your favorite feature or benefit using of the Home for Life Design for today’s aging populations? 

Hailey Burke: I think it (the application platform) also allows you to look at the bigger picture.  Looking at it from a whole perspective, this makes it more convenient working with a wider population. Working with just more than one client and seeing similar trends or themes in certain homes or in certain groups, allows us to intervene in a way that is applicable to certain subgroups within that population.  And it's nice that we can view all of these profiles together and work on it from a bigger picture. 

Daniel O’Brien: I would love to be able to do that. I feel like I still need to do a lot more like studies and research. But if I could make an impact like that, to my community, I would love to. 

Sithong: I think that's great. Yes, you can be on a population level looking at everything. And hopefully that's what you will start to see as you keep using the tool at Iona. And that community of lifelong learners that you're working with, you may start to see trend of the way houses are built or how people are psycho-socially dealing with aging.


And then from a program perspective, you can start to develop programming to help meet some of those needs that you guys are just finding from being in the home and doing the home assessment.  So I love that you said a lot of the things that I was hoping you would which is that you're building rapport. You're identifying barriers, but you're also helping them cope with aging in community and helping to find solutions to that.  So I really appreciate your client-centric approach. 

Gurpreet Singh: With an online application, everything is there where you can go back, you can edit it.  And you can just save all of your data that you've recorded.  And I think that's such a simple feature. I really appreciate that because it makes it that much easier to stay on top and monitor the client and make changes as needed as they go through their treatment process. 

Gianna Vento: And personally, for me, I found that having the modifications, having a bunch of them listed out and having pictures of them was really helpful.  I think that was my favorite part. For me personally, as a student, it's kind of hard for me to think right on the spot of, "What grab bar would work here?" Or, "What modification can I put here?"  Because clearly, we're still learning, we don't know everything yet.  So it was really helpful having those as a guide.  When there was a barrier, I had more tools to give a solution. 

I remember, I was mentioning some type of grab bar that I thought might be helpful. The client says, "I don't know what that is, what are you talking about?" And I said, "I have a picture. Actually, let me show you." So I just flip my camera around and she saw it.  She says, "Oh, that would actually look really great in my bathroom."  She initially said she doesn't love the idea of having assistive devices because she just doesn't like them.  But when she saw it, she goes, "Oh, I wouldn't mind that." I think that was helpful and I think it really did help her as well. 

Hailey Burke: And going off of that I feel like it's just as important for us as students to use and get used to. As I mentioned in class when using this program, I really felt like I was an OT.  I was in the career. I was working with real clients. It really allowed me to get my foot in the door and get experience as to how a home assessment process works. And I really enjoyed it. 

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