OT Program Engages With Sonoma County COA Through Grant

Through a mix of physical distancing visits and Zoom sessions, Dominican occupational therapy students are spending the summer helping Sonoma County’s Council on Aging (COA) overcome obstacles to meeting the needs of day respite program members living with dementia.

Dr. Gina Tucker-Roghi, assistant professor of Occupational Therapy, is supervising two OT graduate students in their full-time, 12-week internships as they introduce new ways that COA staff, volunteers, day program members with dementia and their caregivers can connect.

“Dominican is committed to community-engaged learning that brings real value to community partners like the COA,” Tucker-Roghi says.

Recently, Tucker-Roghi was awarded a four-year, $300,000 Geriatrics Academic Career Award (GACA) from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The grant funds her work to develop resources and training opportunities for occupational therapists and others who provide services to older adults with dementia and their caregivers. Dominican is the first institution to receive a GACA award for occupational therapy.

By 2030, about 20% 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. At age 85, that number soars to 32%.

“Older adults who are part of the baby boomer 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.

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OT interventions introduced at the COA include individualized reminiscence, which uses pictures to elicit positive long-term memories, as a way to support socialization and communication. During the Zoom socials visual prompts are embedded in slide shows, and are used to stimulate group conversation and connection. The OT students also are creating tip sheets to help caregivers simplify meaningful activities and effectively use activity supplies designed to occupy clients at home.

In addition, the students are attending physically distant visits to provide 1:1 interventions with clients. These visits are proving popular with both clients and caregivers at a time when they are starved for human interaction.

“Gina and her students helped us take our day respite program to a new level. I am sure that we’ll continue to utilize these innovative solutions even after our locations have reopened, says Jamie Escoubas, COA’s Day Respite program manager, in this month’s issue of the COA newsletter. “Together, we are exploring unique ways to get to know day respite members living with dementia and work with their caregivers.” 

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