Gerontology Education On the Rise at New York Institute of Technology

Released: 5/8/2013 1:00 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: New York Institute of Technology
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Newswise — Old Westbury, N.Y. (May 8, 2013) -- From technology-driven training for healthcare workers to a special program that helps senior citizens remain happy, fulfilled, and safe in their homes, New York Institute of Technology has launched new initiatives to highlight gerontology issues and education for students and faculty.

“We’re teaching people in the health field, teaching aging people how they can take care of themselves, and teaching students about aging,” says NYIT School of Health Professions Dean Patricia Chute, Ed.D., describing a broad gerontology education leadership effort.

With its Center for Gerontology and Geriatrics, NYIT’s interdisciplinary programs are touching on the age-old issues of aging as well as the new reality of a growing population of active and mobile seniors who are living longer and need specialized geriatric care.

“Gerontology is not one field – it cuts across all fields,” says Tobi Abramson, Ph.D., director of the Center for Gerontology and Geriatrics and an assistant professor of mental health counseling.

Abramson and colleagues in NYIT’s occupational therapy and interior design programs established the “Stories Construct Design” initiative to encourage students to learn the personal stories of local senior citizens and then design therapeutic aids and new layouts in their homes to confront the physical and mental challenges of aging. Combining their specific areas of expertise, the students address a variety of issues, from accessibility to aesthetics, to meet the current and future needs of their senior clients. At one capstone presentation, students designed an accessible room for an active grandmother who spent hours quilting and entertaining grandchildren. Another team added adaptive equipment that would allow a long-married couple to work together in their kitchen.

“It’s person-centered design and person-centered care,” Abramson says. “The students are so impressed when they hear the personal narratives and use them to redesign and modify and understand the core of the person. They’re not just giving them safety equipment.”

One of the challenges, she noted, is that the senior citizens were so active that they were often difficult to pin down for appointments.

“Our students had a hard time scheduling interviews and taking measurements because the older adults were all busy taking classes or traveling,” Abramson said, adding that the course illuminates the misconceptions surrounding aging. “The rocking chair is developing cobwebs.”

NYIT’s Department of Nursing is also heavily involved in geriatric education. Funded with a $500,000 federal grant, the nursing department established free 20-hour courses to provide nurses and professionals with advanced training and workshops on geriatric care. Soon, NYIT will take its training on the road in a “Classrooms on the Go” course delivered to EMTs, local volunteer rescue workers and other healthcare providers who are unable to travel to NYIT's Old Westbury, N.Y. campus.

“We want to make sure we take care of a population that’s expanding and that’s presenting with more complicated conditions,” said Department of Nursing Chair Susan Neville, Ph.D. “The caregivers that we’ve taught are all thrilled beyond belief to get the information on dementia, fall-prevention strategies, safe practices, pharmacology, and other areas so they can increase their expertise and skillsets.”

At NYIT’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, faculty are using a $1 million federal grant strengthen the quality of geriatric medical education. The grant will fund a new program to develop and deliver a specialized geriatrics curriculum for family physicians, which are often the main source of medical care for older people. Over the next few years, the school will train its own faculty along with more than 200 attending physicians and residents at area hospitals with an enhanced curriculum devoted to geriatric medical issues. The curriculum will be offered to new medical students within a few years.

In the Department of Physical Therapy, two faculty members recently published a study in the Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy on the so-called "Six-Minute Walk Test," which assesses the fitness level of older adults. Using pedometers, researchers and physical therapists Veronica Southard and Rosemary Gallagher tested the effect of various types of exercise instruction within the test and noted that results of the test could help therapists design new programs and exercise prescriptions.

“We’re looking at aging from all perspectives,” says Chute.

“We’re building a cadre of professionals to meet the growing workforce demands,” Abramson adds.

As part of the attention to gerontology issues, the Center for Gerontology and Geriatrics also sponsors a “Vitality in Aging” contest to highlight stories about vibrant, active senior citizens. This year, students nominated elderly relatives and friends who epitomize the positive aspects of aging. Their stories and photos are highlighted in a special section on the school's website.

“Our students learn a lot about older people and they’re always amazed at what they find out,” says Abramson. “That’s what we’re looking for: that ‘aha moment’ that will make them less afraid.”


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