Messiah’s Master of Occupational Therapy program partners with Messiah Lifeways

Messiah’s Master of Occupational Therapy program partners with Messiah Lifeways

By Dr. Shelly Brosey

A large group of mostly women stand smiling for a photo.

Traditionally, occupational therapists are seen in rehabilitation settings on the Messiah Lifeways grounds. But in summer of 2021, a non-traditional experience displayed that opportunities are blessings when they are needed most. Messiah University students in the Master of Occupational Therapy Program worked with Messiah Lifeways residents on the Upper Laurel and Asper units. This work supported the enrichment program and allowed students to gain experience working with the older adult population during a Level I Fieldwork experience. The opportunity turned out to be a win-win for residents and students, as students got a chance to work with an older adult population. The reward was more than they expected. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to engage with these individuals in a face-to-face setting and provide them services to increase their quality of life. I loved seeing how happy the residents were just to be engaged in an activity as well as be encouraged and verbally praised for their participation,” student Sarah Genberg reflected.

The hands of older people putting flower bouquets together.

Students worked with residents on Friday afternoons and evenings, using an occupational therapy-based lens as they planned and delivered activities. With staff shortages since the pandemic and eager students willing to work in the community, this was a perfect match. Residents had the opportunity to play games related to their leisure interests, reminisce about favorite beach and fishing trips as well as completing regular household tasks like paying a bill at a restaurant or folding laundry. One of their favorite activities was balloon baseball with pool noodles, a seasonally appropriate activity for the hot summer evenings in June, July and August.

Student Drew Keagy shared, “I did table golf—I created a shoe box with three different holes that they had to roll a golf ball through. We added up the points and we had a winner. They wanted to do 9 rounds of it! The residents really seemed to be engaged. They had a lot of laughs, and they really got competitive with each other! They even shared a few memories from the past. I really enjoyed getting to know them more!”

Students first observed the residents and got to know them during an introductory activity known to occupational therapists as the occupational profile. They observed physical, communication and emotional skills during participation in typical activities the residents were doing. Students then reflected on the interactions of residents and used this information to plan creative and engaging activities for small groups.

These fun and functional activities not only occupied time for the residents, but allowed one-on-one interactions, supported nursing staff on the units so evening meals and self-care could be attended to. Students got to know the residents and promoted skills including:

  • Socialization
  • Communication
  • Laughter
  • Range of motion
  • Balance
  • Eye-hand coordination

Lauren Rotondo reflected, “[Being at] Messiah Lifeways was a rewarding and meaningful experience for me. After watching my grandmother suffer from dementia and Parkinson's, it brought so much joy to watch these residents smile, laugh, and enjoy the company of each other and us each week…. After my last session, a resident's spouse approached me to express how happy she was to see Messiah students each week and how much her husband loved and appreciated our activities even if he didn't always participate in them. As a student, to hear feedback from a resident's spouse was very heartwarming and rewarding, knowing that we were making a difference in the residents’ lives.”

Working with resideA game on poster board with basketball nets.nts with cognitive and memory issues allowed students to apply communication and redirection techniques proven to be effective for residents with dementia. Many felt this opportunity prepared them well for a course focusing on the older adult.  “Learning how to approach and interact with this population is something I will use for the rest of my life, both in practice and personal life,” Mercedes Tamayo said.

“I really enjoyed using creativity to create interventions that were specific to the residents and correlated with their abilities and current cognitive status,” said Emily Davis

A concurrent project involving the students and residents occurred in the same semester. MOT students performed research on community gardens to support Messiah Lifeways planning committee for the Asper Garden. Students worked in groups after being assigned a portion of the project and worked together to interview, gather research and explore plants including fruits and vegetables, equipment, accessibility, mobility needs for an outside garden for the unit. What better project than to contribute to a green space for all to enjoy. Students were happy to walk alongside the planning committee during this experience as they examined what it looks like to work and consult with community members on a project. They examined design and layout of pathways, vegetation, seating, security and safety, accessibility and lighting. Additionally, supplies required for maintaining the garden for both staff and residents were identified. Potential programs that could occur in the garden include:

  • Garden crafting, including signage, rock painting, and decoration
  • Farm-to-table fruits and vegetables and collaboration with the dietary department
  • Volunteer program from cottage residents to maintain the garden
  • Season transitioning using themes, clean up and planting annuals 
  • Intergenerational connections between families and residents 
  • Resident bi-weekly garden maintenance using a schedule

Evidence explored by the students showed that sensory gardens provide many benefits to residents, families, and staff. These include occupational, cognitive, and physical benefits for residents.

Faculty and students at Messiah University Master of Occupational Therapy Program are so grateful for this opportunity and the ongoing partnership that supports the residents and student learning simultaneously. This relationship demonstrates God’s work in action through each resident and student in the community setting. It provided opportunities to fill needs and support each organization’s efforts to grow together and learn from each other.