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Iona College takes home safety to a virtual level for effective aging in place

Students Pioneer Virtual Home Safety Assessments for Community-Based Care

Feb 2022 - New Rochelle, NY

Every day, 10,000 people will turn age 65 in the US.  This daily trend will continue for the next 15 years.  In addition, Covid-19 has further shifted this fast-growing aging population to rely more heavily on virtual services for their healthcare and daily living needs.


Dr. Danielle Mahoney, Assistant Professor in the Graduate Occupational Therapy (OT) Program at Iona College, teaches a course that addresses the home and community- based needs of older adults.  The course has a module on the concept of “aging-in-place” and how occupational therapists can help promote optimal occupational performance and participation with older adults living in the community.  The Home for Life Design® application was a tool that Dr. Mahoney chose to implement within the course, in order to allow students to practice administering a home safety assessment.  The Home for Life Design application was also used to help students collaborate with older adults living in the community about safety recommendations and to foster a conversation about environmental adaptations.

Due to the COVID 19 pandemic restrictions, Dr. Mahoney was faced with needing to redesign her course’s in-person home safety assessment projects to virtual ones.  “When I was confronted with how I would give students the first opportunity to assess the home safety of an older adult in a virtual environment, it really clicked for me that Home for Life Design would be a great tool for virtual assessments.  It was the perfect combination of value and performance for our program.”  Dr. Mahoney said.


Iona OT Group.jpg

Iona College: left to right, Hailey Burke, Daniel O'Brien, Dr. Danielle Mahoney, Dr. Laurette Olson, Dean Kuldraree, and Gianna Vento

Home safety assessments of today are quickly proving to be a cost-saving, life-changing experience for aging populations across the country.  They are offered as a valuable alternative to expensive facility placement and are conducted to give practical, client-centric options to prolong independent living in one’s own home.  According to Dr. Mahoney, “These aging in place assignments have really been amazing, and I think they serve a population of people that don't always get the attention that they might need at that point in their life.”  

She brought the challenge of using Home for Life Design virtually instead of in-person as she had originally planned to her students.  ”We designed the Iona College Occupational Therapy Program with the goal of intentionally developing our students’  entrepreneurial mindset so they are ready to re-envision /re-think their OT services to meet the needs of their clients in spite of any environmental, task or personal challenge.  We, as a faculty, engaged students in the problem-solving of real-world restrictions on services taking place due to the pandemic, and as a result the students were able to take part in an innovative shift from a traditional, in-person, home assessment service model.”  Dr. Mahoney envisioned a new way to conduct a home safety assessment, an entirely virtual way. 


Dr. Mahoney also wanted an assessment solution that helps students gain the skills they need to interact with the community, as well as support the Iona OT program threads and goals of developing students as community engaged innovators.  Ms. Tripta Velamoor is the Fieldwork Coordinator in the Iona College Occupational Therapy Department.  Ms. Velamoor has developed a strong connection and partnership with an organization called LIRIC (Learning in Retirement at Iona College).  “The Iona College Graduate OT Program is very fortunate to have a built a strong partnership with LIRIC, an organization whose membership is older adults ranging in age from 65-105. LIRIC members have varied backgrounds & abilities and typically reside in the communities nearby the college.  They define themselves as lifelong learners and attend a variety of workshops, lectures, and social events at and around Iona College.  LIRIC members enjoy supporting OT students in developing clinical skills and professional behaviors, and volunteer regularly to participate in assignments (such as conducting interviews, assessments, and interventions) that the students need to complete as part of their academic curriculum.  This partnership provides opportunities for students to apply what they are learning in the classroom as well as engage the older adults as mentors.


In the summer of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Home for Life Design® application was used to engage virtually with LIRIC members as part of their service-learning course, allowing OT students to continue to build evaluation skills, provide LIRIC members with a valuable service in a safe manner, and continue to provide opportunities for LIRIC members to engage with OT students during a time of social isolation.  While there were a few innate challenges for the participation of these older adults in this virtual home assessment project, they welcomed the opportunity to support Iona OT students and continue in their role as educational partners”.


Using available video-sharing apps (FaceTime, Zoom) and their own creative intellect, OT students at Iona College ventured out to conduct some of the country’s first ever, virtual home safety assessments.  Dr. Mahoney commented on this accomplishment with her students, “I am so proud that with our support, our students embraced change and adapted to the current healthcare climate. This new service of virtual home assessments, is a breakthrough concept and approach for professionals to help aging populations live safely in their homes.”  






“I am so proud that with our support, our students embraced change and adapted to the current healthcare climate. This new service of virtual home assessments, is a breakthrough concept and approach for professionals to help aging populations live safely in their homes.”

Dr. Danielle Mahoney

Assistant Professor

New York-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences

From their homes, apartments, dorm rooms, or an Iona classroom, students launched the home assessment application from their laptop or tablet.   With the LIRIC member using a video-sharing app such as FaceTime, the student would observe the member in their home and proceed to walk through the Home for Life Design home assessment process as if they were there in-person.  


"I really felt like an OT completing a home assessment with a client.” 

Hailey Burke '23

Iona student - gianna.png

"Super user-friendly, very useful to help residents age in place."

Gianna Vento '23

OT student Hailey Burke said of her experience, “I really felt like an OT completing a home assessment with a client.  It was a great experience that I learned so much from.”   OT student Daniel O’Brien commented that Home for Life Design gave him “confidence” as a student.  "It was extremely helpful that the Home for Life Design® application provided pictures of the adaptive devices and solutions available.  This really help me organize my approach when discussing future recommendations with the client.  In order to build my confidence prior performing the assessment, I reviewed all of the options for adaptations and modifications on the Home for Life Design® application.” said Daniel.


"I felt really empowered.  And I think clients felt empowered ..."

Gurpreet Singh '22

Gurpreet Singh, MSOT '22, discovered another outcome of her assessment experience adding, “I felt really empowered. And I think clients felt empowered that there are things that can be done to maintain their independence. 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." 

After the project, LIRIC members met with Mahoney to discuss the successful experience and outcomes. “What they told us,” Mahoney says, “was that the Iona occupational therapy graduate students were one of the only social interaction [LIRIC members] had for a long time during COVID.  They said everything else was cancelled, except for Iona occupational therapy.  So they really appreciated this and they love partnering with our students."

Other benefits of the program included finding home safety solutions specific to the person being assessed by the student.  OT student Gianna Vento commented, “I saw that when I was doing my home assessment in the kitchen, my client said she felt totally independent.  She felt everything was easily accessible.  And then when I asked her to demonstrate reaching above her head into 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."   


“The experience of performing a virtual assessment tool has encouraged our students to grow as professionals and deepen their understanding of our profession’s identity.” 

Dr. Danielle Mahoney

Assistant Professor

New York-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences


“Home for Life Design provided the structure for a transformative learning and service experience.  Students truly grasped the importance of a Home Safety Assessment and had a well- designed tool that allowed them to provide a meaningful and engaging service to an older adult.” 

Dr. Laurette Olson

Professor & OT Program Director

New York-Presbyterian Iona School of Health Sciences

In the future, Dr. Mahoney says. “This opportunity to serve and adapt in a time of need proves that our mentality of adaptation and innovation is working. Just because people can’t leave their home, doesn’t meant they should be denied services.  I think there is a huge place for virtual home assessments in the future.  Our students have done something really special, hopefully we can help people be safer and age in place.  That’s the ultimate goal.” 

For more info:

About the Iona College Occupational Therapy Department:

The mission of the Occupational Therapy Department at Iona College is to educate students in an environment that promotes intellectual curiosity, development of self as a person and professional, community engagement, and appreciation of diversity. It commits its energies and resources to develop graduates who are recognized for their ethical, evidence-based and client-centered practice of occupational therapy. Graduates will demonstrate openness and adaptability to changing practice environments and will approach practice challenges creatively and flexibly supported by the strategies of lifelong learning, innovation and entrepreneurship, habits of reflective practice, and integration of mind, body and spirit as a person and professional. Occupational Therapy | Iona College

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