St Lawrence County OFA Forges Adaptive Equipment Program
August 31, 2020

St. Lawrence County OFA Forges Adaptive Equipment Program

St. Lawrence County Office for the Aging Connects Clients with Clarkson College Students, Forging An Innovative Adaptive Equipment Program During Pandemic

St Lawrence County Office for the Aging Connects Clients with Clarkson College Students, Forging An Innovative Adaptive Equipment Program During Pandemic.

In 2019, longtime St. Lawrence County Office for the Aging (OFA) Director Andrea Montgomery and the county New York Connects Coordinator Christiana DeForge worked with a group of students on an Adaptive Equipment Tune Up.

The field project put together students from the four major universities within the county.

Those students worked with older adults in the area at the event – 60 in total over the course of the day. This included doing height adjustments, tightening screws, and making replacement suggestions for various equipment. The discussions and assistance took the form of ‘new to them’ items, loaned from the Maximizing Independent Living Choices (MILC) loan closet in Massena.

Wheelchairs, walkers, and canes are among the most borrowed MILC loan closet items – which are returned after a trial period.

The trial loan period can be a valuable way to evaluate a cane or other equipment before buying it.

An Idea is Born
Accustomed to giving seminars to occupational therapy students, Montgomery felt a sense of satisfaction from the event. She saw the students and clients benefit from their inter-generational interactions.

“We were tapping into resources. And those students made great contact,” Montgomery said. “They actually helped a gentleman realize he’d been using his cane improperly for 20 years.”

From there, Montgomery’s wheels started turning and she asked DeForge, who has been at her post with the St. Lawrence County OFA for two years, if she thought they had a need for this. Together they decided they did.

“We started thinking about how we could ask interns to make a difference with clients instead of doing a typical desk internship,” DeForge said. “Soon after, we connected with the occupational therapy graduate students at Clarkson University and set up the Adaptive Equipment Program (AEP).”

St. Lawrence OFA brainstormed and identified emergency and at-risk clients and paired them with the students. After the clients granted permission, the students checked in with them each week via phone. Each student had 10 older adults to call per week, the goal being for an occupational therapy assessment.

“We figured that, at the very least, it would provide a friendly voice,” Montgomery said.

Ultimately, more than 40 older adults had someone to talk to, and over four weeks the relationships evolved. The students ended up providing much more than just advice about needs and equipment.

Lack of socialization is a serious issue among many older adults, and having the students consistently call provided an opportunity for the clients to connect with new people. The clients stated that they enjoyed hearing how the student’s classes were going and what their goals were.

“What developed from those contacts was special for everyone involved,” said Montgomery. The students had become inspired by their interactions with the older adults.

DeForge explained how deeply the relationships evolved in just four weeks.

“Because of COVID the students were initially apprehensive about a virtual internship and calling clients they didn’t know,” DeForge said. “But the final Zoom meeting was emotional—the students were sad that it was the last time they were going to speak to the clients. They were proud of the relationships and the outcomes; you could tell they really put work into it. It was inspiring.”

Win Win Win
A list of common needs emerged from the AEP. For the Clarkson University students, it was practical field experience and projects to complete for graduate course credit.

For the older adults in the program, it was the social contact and practical advice about useful tools.

To meet class requirements, three graduate students from Clarkson University developed a comprehensive presentation—one that Montgomery and DeForge believe will aid others for years to come. 

The presentation (linked below) features common tools aimed at easing the challenges that caregivers and aging adults face every day.

Easy to use Adaptive Equipment for Older Adults
by Beth Davies, Tyler Gansen, and Taylor Marcellus
Occupational Therapy Students, Clarkson University

Download the PPT (large file)
Download as PDF (smaller file, some content disabled)

Montgomery appreciates that the students went the extra mile for older adults in St. Lawrence County. “They took some weight off of our staff. I am enormously grateful for their work and the tool they've provided,” she said. “We're very thankful.”

For More Information:
For more information about the St. Lawrence County for the Aging’s Adaptive Equipment Program, contact Christiana DeForge at 1-315-386-4730.

To submit a “best practices” or “innovative aging” story idea, please contact the NYSOFA Communications Bureau at [email protected].


Adaptive Equipment: What Is It?

Equipment or any tool that assists you with Activities of Daily Life (ADLs) – for example: eyeglasses, an extra grip on your pen, or a pop socket on the back of your phone. Low tech adaptive equipment means no power is required. High tech adaptive equipment is computerized or involves electronics.

The Science of Aging Well

The value of social contact is well-documented. There are many factors and data sets aimed at improving the health and well-being of isolated older adults. Read more: Functional Status and Social Contact among Older Adults.

In Their Own Words

The three Clarkson University occupational therapy graduate students talk about their
St. Lawrence County AEP experiences.

Tyler Gansen
Hometown: Circle Pines, Minnesota.

Interests outside of this project?

I managed the garden for Clarkson University Garden Club last year and now I spend most of my time with my wife Kathleen, daughter Zinnia, who turned one in August, and our two dogs, Bailey and Harvey.

What was the most interesting encounter you had? 

It was interesting to talk to people from across St. Lawrence county during this experience, especially those who have received occupational therapy services and who have benefited from therapy in the past. I loved that we could come together as a team despite having to do all the work online through different locations across the county—and even in other states for some students.

Do you have any ideas that involve innovation and aging?

I think older adults could benefit from using a smartwatch to do things like monitor heart rate (some even do blood pressure now), track steps taken to encourage exercise, have reminders to take medications, track their sleep habits, keep a calendar of appointments, and send out a lifeline alert.

Beth Davies
Potsdam, NY

Interests outside of this project?
I am member of the student occupational therapy association and adapted a toy Jeep for a child in St. Lawrence county.

What was the most interesting encounter you had? 

I was able to hear some interesting history of Potsdam and St. Lawrence County. My favorite part of the project was being able to see our projects come together and hear how useful they will be for the Office for the Aging. I enjoyed every part of this experience and it was a pleasure working with everyone!

Do you have any ideas that involve innovation and aging?

Making devices through 3D printing that are specific to each older adult.

Taylor Marcellus
 Waddington, NY

Interests outside of this project?

Sports, hockey, and softball.

What was the most interesting encounter you had? 

It was very interesting to get to know each individual and learn about their interests. Even though we were not able to meet each client face to face we were able to create a relationship and share life stories.

Do you have any ideas that involve innovation and aging?

Pill boxes with alarms—a pill box that is able to store and display personal health information along with reminding individuals when it is time to take their medications. The alarm would work by displaying the picture and name of the medication.

What was your favorite part of the project?

My favorite part of the project was brainstorming creative ways with the OFA, my classmates, and our mentor to come up with projects that could be done remotely that were able to help improve an individual’s quality of life. It was a great feeling talking to clients and have them tell us that we made their day by keeping them company over the phone.

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New York State Office for the Aging
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