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Physical Therapist Assistant Students Join Forces with Local Health Club to Support Active Agers

By Meaghan Cayer on April 20, 2017
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L to R: Sammi Lehr, Kaitlin Kolesnikoff, Alison Quill

Bay State College's Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program is so dedicated to service learning, they've made it a core part of their curriculum! PTA students are assigned their service learning projects during their first semester, and work on them for the remainder of their two-year program.

We sat down with a group of graduating PTA students - Sammi Lehr, Kaitlin Kolesnikoff and Alison Quill - to learn more about the service learning project they completed this year.

Alison: "I initially came up with the idea for this project from one of our other projects. We had to visit a particular type of physical therapy location, and one of the sites that I went to was a skilled nursing facility. While I was there, I saw some of the classes they were putting on for the elderly population they had there. Having parents who are of that age, it struck a chord with me. During one of our classes, we also learned about some of the statistics about fall rates, and what happens within a year or up to five years after an elderly person falls. The outcome isn't good. For me, that's where it started."

Sammi: "We wanted to start our own program, and were trying to find a facility. I used to work at the Weymouth Club and had connections with the personal trainers there. One of them was Deb Quigley. She focuses on aquatic therapy, especially with their older population, the "Active Agers." Turns out she was trying to start a new program for the Active Agers, but was having a problem getting everyone engaged. She thought it would be a great idea to work in collaboration with us and use our class as a promotion for her program.”

Kaitlin: "The name of the class was Active Aging Awareness: Balance, Posture and Self Reliance. We used our clinical background, research and what we learned in class and came up with the best exercises we could to help with balance and posture."

Sammi: "We wanted to focus on using specific exercises that strengthened the appropriate muscles to improve your balance and posture. A lot of the times you see people at the gym either doing exercises the wrong way or compensating using the wrong muscles. They might think they're doing the exercise, but they're not accomplishing what it was meant to do."

Alison: "We ended up making goodie bags for all the attendees with a list of all the exercises we were going over – from in-seated, to standing, to floor. Kaitlin put together a balance and posture worksheet. We also gave everyone two different TheraBands, a yellow and a red one, because we wanted to progress them from easy to hard exercises. We added in water bottles and fitness bars too. It was nice to have not just the class, but all of the information from it so they could leave with all of the instructions on how to do the exercises, how many sets of each, etc."

Sammi: “We went in there with a sign up sheet for 25 people. We had 25 goodie bags, 25 of everything. At first, only 10 people signed up. Then three days before it was 20. An hour before the class, Deb called and said that 33, maybe 34 people were going to show up. There was one 59-year-old, and one 92-year-old, and the rest were 60 and 70 years old. Originally we were going to do one big group for the class, but we ended up splitting into two groups. On the fly, we had to figure out how everything was going to come together again. We were excited, but it was super overwhelming.”

Kaitlin: “That was a big surprise. It was definitely challenging, but we weren’t intimidated once we started the class. It was much easier to break into groups than we expected, and it ended up working out for all of us. We focused on their form and posture as they were in the class, and emphasized that they didn’t have to worry about remembering reps and sets because we had it all written down in their goodie bag. We told them to just focus on their form so they could get that down. Some of them had been doing the exercises for years, but didn’t realize why they were so important to posture or improving their balance.”

Sammi: “Yah, some of them came up to us and said they had been doing the exercises, but doing them the wrong way. They didn’t understand why they had been doing them, but now they did. We taught them why they’re doing these specific exercises, and how it’s helping them.”

Kaitlin: “Most of the geriatric population has either just retired, or they’ve been retired for a little bit so they’re not moving as much as they used to be, or they’re not as active as they used to be. We were trying to get across to them that these are simple exercises that you can do that will keep you healthy and help improve your balance. We touched on how they should get up every day and move around, go for a walk, be active, come out to classes like this one. Once Active Agers fall when they get older, their fear of falling is just so incredible that it keeps them from doing what they want to do in life. It’s scary because someone can be living a great retired life, and then something happens to them and they don’t want to move, they don’t want to go outside. It’s important that we can give them these exercises, not only so they can improve their balance and posture, but to show them that they can work them into their daily routine.”

Alison: “It’s never too late. This particular population, they grew up in a different era. Exercise wasn’t the main focus like it is today. Some of them, being the age they are, use that as an excuse. We tried to break through that barrier and educate them to show them that they can make changes – even if they’re 60, 70, 80, 90 years old. You can improve your balance. You can be safer out there, and enjoy a more independent life. Just because you’re a certain age doesn’t mean you can’t still do things and grow.”

Kaitlin: “I loved working with this population and doing this project. They were so thankful and appreciative. It felt like we actually made a change and helped better their lives. We did a survey after, too, and their feedback was so rewarding.”

Sammi: “They said they want to do more; they want to keep going. I think it was great we were able to do this with Deb, because she’s going to continue it. 10 people signed up for her program, which doubled her number of attendees. She’s going to do a class every week from now on. She’s not just going to focus on this one aspect – posture and balance – she’s also going to focus on other aspects like nutrition. We’re going to be doing a follow-up date too.”

Interested in our Physical Therapist Assistant program? Bay State College offers this program during the day at our Boston Back Bay campus! Learn more here.

Interested in Service Learning? Read all about recent service learning initiatives from Bay State College students here.