OTA Students become Certified Aging in Place Specialists

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The OTA Program

In the classroom, students in the SUNY Orange Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program learn body mechanics, biology and about specific physiological conditions.  Faculty provide a foundation of understanding of typical abilities as well as a client’s unique abilities related to aging, accident, and disease.  SUNY Orange OTA students have opportunities to observe those abilities and apply their classroom knowledge during internships which provide real-world experiences.  

The program’s commitment to this combination of classroom and field work led to an interest in offering students NAHB’s Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) training.  This had been a goal for many years, and was recently realized due to funding provided through the college administration’s use of the US ETA Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge (JIAC) Grant.   

The CAPS Designation

OT student experiences arthritic hand during CAPS Sensitivity Training

OT student experiences arthritic hand during CAPS Sensitivity Training

In 2000, AARP conducted a study, Fixing to Stay, on housing-related issues for persons aged 45 and over.  In question after question, upwards of 80% of respondents indicated a desire to remain in their own home throughout their lives.  Because very little of the US housing stock is built to meet the needs of older adults, AARP partnered with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) to develop a training for building professionals to properly modify homes to meet the needs of our elder citizens.  Before long, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) joined these efforts, and now the course reflects the ideal scenario:  using the expertise and skills of occupational therapy professionals collaboratively with building professionals to enable greater independence among clients.

Attempting basic household tasks while experiencing different abilities

Attempting basic household tasks while experiencing different abilities

In early March, 15 OTA students and 3 faculty took the CAPS l and ll courses:  Marketing and Design/Build Solutions respectively.  These were taught by Esther Greenhouse, MS, CAPS, environmental gerontologist, NAHB Instructor, and CAPS of the Year recipient.  During the 2 days, students learned about demographic data which had led to the 3 distinct aging in place market groups:  1) those without urgent needs, 2) those with chronic change-related needs, and 3) those with urgent care needs due to accident or illness.  In addition to lecture and slides, the students applied the coursework through hands-on activities such as a Sensitivity Training (see photos) and identifying both obstacles and solutions to a floor plan for a hypothetical client.

Students took an exam at the end of each day-long course and completed the training by taking the one day Business Management course.  They will then finalize the process by signing a CAPS Code of Ethics (required of all CAPS designation holders) and receive their certification. 

The Result

The OTA students can apply this knowledge generally to their work at skilled nursing facilities, home care agencies, rehabilitation centers, and specifically by conducting home assessments to inform enabling home modifications.  The SUNY Orange OTA program is looking to expand this program by offering NAHB’s Universal Design/Build course and including students in the Architecture program.