Grand Valley students talk healthy aging at fair

Jackie Smith

“Healthy Aging in the Community,” a health fair recently organized by a group of second year students in the Grand Valley State University occupational therapy program, demonstrated July 15 to local community members how to age comfortably in their own homes.

The event, which took place at Pottawatomie Park in Grand Haven, was put on in accordance with the requirements of the GVSU occupational therapy program, in which students are required to complete a master’s thesis. GVSU students Matthew Rejc, Allison Hinsman, Tiffany Piotrowski and Meghan Zeitter all worked in conjunction with the staff of nonprofit organization Four Pointes Center for Successful Aging to plan the event.

“We began that process last October when we decided to follow up a previous research study that was completed on ‘Aging in Place,’” Rejc said. “‘Aging in Place’ is a wellness model that focuses on enabling people to live in their homes and communities for as long as they are able.”

Upon completion of this study, results suggested that future research would offer information on ‘Aging in Place’ concepts and explore whether or not senior citizens found these lifestyle tips useful. The students then got into contact with Four Pointes Center, a Grand Haven nonprofit organization whose main goal is to provide activities for local adults aged 60 and older. They decided to have an occupational therapist collaborate with Four Pointes Center to develop a regional area education program relevant to home modifications and related topics. The students’ research showed that primary areas of concern for aging in the same environment were found to be home modifications, health promotion, and community mobility.

“Through our literature review and the suggested previous recommendations we began to formulate the idea of hosting an event in which we as occupational therapists and other vendors that help facilitate ‘Aging in Place’ can educate members of the community on these concepts,” Rejc said.

At the health fair, “Healthy Aging in the Community,” participants experienced interactive learning sessions detailing methods to successfully age within their chosen community and how to live more independent lives.

The first session included information on how to live a healthy life style and how to stay as physically active as possible while aging. This addressed not only the physical aspects of a person but also the emotional, psychological, and spiritual perspectives of the individual.

The second session included information on home modifications, highlighting what modifications can be done to facilitate living independently for as long as possible. This included modifications such as changing lighting to reduce glare in the home to make objects easier to see and contrasting colors of objects within the home to make them more visible.

The last session included information on being mobile within the community. This addressed the effects aging has on driving and ways senior citizens can adapt their vehicle so that they can drive, as well as different services that will pick them up at their home and transport them to a destination.

This health fair served two purposes for the GVSU students involved: it helped them to complete their thesis and emphasized the reality that as occupational therapists and future health providers, students are not bound to a medical model or a hospital setting.

“Occupational therapy has its benefits in multiple settings, including senior centers, community centers and nonprofit organizations,” Rejc said. “(This career path) focuses on providing services to individuals by enabling them to partake in meaningful activities throughout their lives and by helping (those individuals to) live their lives to the fullest.”

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