Community Service

As demand grows for health professionals prepared to meet the needs of the growing population of older adults, Dominican University of California has been awarded a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant. The grant will fund the development of resources and training opportunities for occupational therapists and other healthcare providers who serve older adults with dementia in healthcare facilities and the community.

Dr. Gina Tucker-Roghi, assistant professor of Occupational Therapy, has been awarded a four-year, $300,000 Geriatrics Academic Career Award (GACA) from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Dominican is the first institution to receive a GACA award for occupational therapy.

By 2030, about 20% percent of the United States population will be over 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About 10% of people over the age of 65 will have dementia. By age 85, that number will soar to 32%.

“Older adults who are part of the baby boom generation are aging and deserve prepared and informed healthcare providers who support healthy and productive aging, and there’s certainly growing recognition that the healthcare workforce is not fully prepared,” Tucker-Roghi says.

Occupational therapists frequently work in healthcare settings and focus on the rehabilitation needs of their clients. The grant will help meet the needs of older adults with dementia, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia-related psychosocial conditions. The work will also include expanding OT beyond its traditional practice settings in healthcare systems into community based organizations that serve older adults, and creating inter-professional education and outreach focused on demonstrating the value of occupational therapists as partners with other healthcare professionals.

“Given evidence-based resources and training, occupational therapists can expand their scope of current practice in settings that already employ OTs, and develop additional practice settings through innovative clinical services,” Tucker-Roghi says. “Preparing occupational therapists to work with other healthcare professionals and in our communities to meet the unique needs of older adults with dementia is critical. My work as a GACA recipient will provide an opportunity to establish DUC as a leader in geriatric healthcare education in our region.”

Occupational therapy is a licensed health and human service profession that helps people gain the skills they need to live lives of meaning and purpose, whatever their age or ability level. Dominican’s graduate occupational therapy program offers classroom and clinical education in all aspects of practice. Students learn how to conduct research, design community-based programs, develop management and leadership skills, and implement occupationally-focused education for wellness and health promotion.

However, in traditional “medical model” practice settings – hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and home health agencies – occupational therapists often do not address the full scope of their practice for individuals with dementia.

“OT services in medical model settings are often narrowly focused on biomedical interventions that are more appropriate for acute illness or conditions,” notes Tucker-Roghi. “Individuals with dementia and other chronic or degenerative conditions would also benefit from services focused on well-being and quality of life through prevention, maintenance, and adaptation.”

For example, evidence-based best practice occupational therapy for individuals with dementia  includes assessments to identify the remaining strengths and abilities of the individual with dementia, caregiver education and support, environmental modifications, and adaptations to meaningful tasks and activities in order to promote participation in self-care and leisure occupations, health, social participation, community engagement.

The grant will also help Tucker-Roghi demonstrate the value of occupational therapy services in settings outside the traditional medical model, including community-based organizations. She plans to collaborate with Dominican’s nursing, physician assistant, counseling psychology, and public health faculty in the School of Health and Natural Sciences to develop inter-professional geriatric courses and digital learning resources that will be available to healthcare professions.

“The goal is for students to understand the unique role of each member of the service team when caring for older adults with MCI, dementia, or related psychosocial conditions.”

Tucker-Roghi will collaborate with Ensign Facility Services, which supports more than 200 post-acute care facilities throughout the U.S., including many in rural and medically underserved communities, to support both rehabilitation professionals and non-therapy nursing home staff to implement best practices for older adults with dementia and mental health conditions.

Field placements at Ensign affiliated nursing homes will allow Dominican OT students to work with a variety of rehabilitation professionals – occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech pathologists, and nurses – in order to integrate their knowledge of geriatric best practices into “dementia friendly” service delivery models focused on improving the rehabilitation experience for individuals with cognitive impairment following an acute illness or injury.

Currently, Tucker-Roghi and her students are collaborating with several Bay Area organizations that serve older adults, including San Rafael-based Whistlestop. The OT students are creating a training program to provide Whistlestop volunteers and drivers with skills to create trusting and meaningful social relationships with their clients, primarily older adults and people living with disabilities. The objective is to increase the quality of the communication and social interactions between the volunteers and the program members.

This will better position the volunteers to serve as trusted messengers in order to increase participation in the upcoming census.

"This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $300,000. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government."

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