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

Students Pioneer Country’s First Ever, Virtual Home Safety Assessments for Rapidly Growing US Aging Populations 

Jan  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.  With ever-rising provider & assisted living costs, millions of aging adults and their families are searching for better solutions. 

  

Dr. Danielle Mahoney, Assistant Professor in the Graduate Occupational Therapy (OT) Program at Iona College, understands these industry challenges all too well.  Her OT program at Iona includes a Home Mods class that utilizes Home for Life Design, an application solution that guides students through an innovative home safety assessment process.  The goal is to solve these industry challenges by further fostering independent living in the homes of these aging adults.

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Dr. Mahoney and her student groups have been conducting in-person home assessments as part of an OT assignment within their her curriculum for the last few years.  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.” Adding that the experience is beneficial for both the older adult and students as they “build rapport” and aim to "partner" with the older adult on this independent living journey.  

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At the height of 2020, Dr. Mahoney became faced with the challenge of wanting to continue her home safety assessment projects within a highly restrictive Covid environment.  She brought the challenge to her students. “My students don’t hesitate in our program, which is awesome.  We foster an entrepreneurial mindset. [Students] might feel uncomfortable for a second, but they have grown and learned that this comes with becoming an occupational therapist.”  The result was an innovative shift from a traditional, in-person, home assessment service model.  Mahoney and her students envisioned a new way to conduct a home safety assessment, an entirely virtual way.  

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Using available video-sharing apps (FaceTime, Zoom) and their own creative intellect, OT students at Iona College ventured out to conduct the country’s first ever, virtual home safety assessments.  Dr. Mahoney commented on this great achievement with her students, “I think it's incredible. We know that our students are capable of such great things…It also proves our mentality of 'Don't just say no to things, think of a different way to do it.’ Adapt to the needs of your population and figure it out!” This new service is a breakthrough concept and approach for professionals to help aging populations live safely in their home.   

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When it came to choosing the right tool for virtual home assessments, Home for Life Design was the clear choice for Iona.  “I had experienced Home for Life Design before from a colleague at Columbia University and saw how they used the application to perform in-home evaluations. And then when Covid hit, it really clicked for me that it would be a great tool for virtual assessments. It was the perfect combination of value and performance for our program."

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"I really felt like an OT.  I was in the career."

Hailey Burke '23

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

Gianna Vento '23

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 OT graduate program initiatives of Entrepreneurship, Social Innovation, and Community Engagement.  One of the ways the Iona OT Dept. extends into their community is through their LIRIC (Learning In Retirement at Iona College) program.   LIRIC members are a group of older adults aged 65-105, all of varying professions & abilities, who reside in neighborhoods near the campus.  These group members were the perfect candidates for her virtual home assessment project.  “It was Dr. Olson, our program chair, plus our fieldwork coordinator who reached out to LIRIC to see how we could provide services, and our program’s relationship with LIRIC just evolved over time. When I have a project like this come up, we try to partner with them.

From their dorm or classroom, students would launch 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. 

 

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 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."

OT student Daniel O’Brien commented that Home for Life Design gave him “confidence” as a student.  "Being able to have a picture of the products, a way to show solutions for clients, that really helped build my confidence going into the home assessment," said Daniel.  Dean Kuldraree, another OT student in the project said "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."  OT student Hailey Burke added, “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.” 

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

Gurpreet Singh '22

Gurpreet Singh, OT Masters Graduate, 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."

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."  

 

Hailey Burke also mentioned that the application "makes it more convenient working with a wider population."  Adding, "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."

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“Whether it's actually in-person or virtually, our students have really made a difference … it really has changed people's lives here.”

Dr. Danielle Mahoney

Graduate OT, Assistant Professor

Iona College

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“It was an amazing find. 

We are so grateful for your tool.”

Dr. Lauren Olson

OT Program Chair

Iona College

In the future, Dr. Mahoney says. “This opportunity to serve and adapt in a time of need proves that our mentality of adaptation and entrepreneurship 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. Our students have done something really special, hopefully we can help people be safer and age in place. That’s the ultimate goal.”