Students and older adults buddied up for regular walks as part of a grant-funded project conducted by the Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences, and the results have been an improved education program for occupational therapy assistants and better health and safety for the older adults.
The Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF) approved a grant of $10,500 to pair older adults with students to encourage walking and help prevent traumatic brain injury, a serious condition that can result from a fall.
Twenty-five students committed to walk weekly with eight older adults residing in the Eatonville over the course of a semester (12 weeks). Sixteen additional Masters’ level students prepared educational materials for the program.
These disease-specific materials conveyed important health information that students shared with their walking buddies as they forged a trusting relationship.
Just before the end of the semester, the participating older adults were offered a free home assessment conducted by a specially trained consultant paid for through the grant. The home assessment exercise benefited students and faculty as well as the older adults as it identified those areas of the home that posed a fall risk.
This new assessment protocol will be integrated into the existing curriculum and will become a permanent part of the education of future students. Likewise, faculty benefited from this continuing education opportunity.
As part of the grant, safety issues identified during the home assessment will be corrected. College faculty will work with Rebuilding Together Orlando (RTO) to make these improvements as part of a Build-Out Day scheduled for April 7, 2012. RTO was a natural partner since their Safe at Home program focuses on safety and accessibility modifications that allow older adults and people with disabilities to age in place. This Build-Out Day will use volunteers (both skilled and unskilled) to make the modifications thereby leveraging WPHF grant dollars.
Program outcomes have been positive for all involved. Some of the students have bonded with their walking buddies and have become pen pals or regular visitors even though the semester has ended. Many were surprised at the busy lives seniors lead since their perception had been that the lives of older adults are empty. Students also learned that many of their walking buddies were used to scraping by on their current income so it was hard for them to accept help with modifications, even when they were at serious risk for a fall. In one case, a very sedentary older adult was coaxed into participating when his roommate (who regularly participated in the Walking Buddies program), kept talking about the program’s many benefits. Now these roommates have a regular routine of walking together in their neighborhood.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this program has affected the way these students will interact with older adults in their occupational therapy career,” said Diana Silvey, WPHF Program Director-Older Adults. “It has sensitized them to issues older adults face beyond those presented in textbooks, and the weekly walks have made the experience personal. It is rewarding to know future classes of students will likewise benefit from the Foundation’s modest investment in this program.”