Occupational Therapy Students Drive the CarFit Program
By Ashley Opp Hofmann
Photo at right: Occupational therapy students get hands-on experience by participating in CarFit.
Occupational therapy students from the University of Florida in Gainesville put their education to work in a CarFit event in November 2007. For this event, 43 students who had already received comprehensive training on older driver issues through their studies were trained to conduct a “check-up” for 58 older drivers, the largest CarFit event in Florida to date.
Created by the American Society on Aging and developed with the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), AAA, and AARP, CarFit endeavors to help older drivers learn how to adjust and “fit” themselves in their cars in order to improve their safety and community mobility. CarFit was piloted in 2006 and has had several national rollout initiatives by AARP and AAA in 2007.
Getting students involved seemed natural to Dennis McCarthy, PhD, a research assistant professor at the University of Florida. McCarthy teaches adult assessment and intervention as well as gerontology and driving and community mobility. He approached Desiree Lanford, a certified driving rehabilitation specialist and occupational therapist at the University of Florida’s National Older Driver Research and Training Center because “I thought the CarFit event would be a perfect opportunity to not only have students interact with elders about car safety, but also to provide a service to the community as well. And it turned out to be perfect,” says McCarthy.
Lanford made sure that they’d pull it off. She coordinated the event itself, while McCarthy worked with the students. “I always wanted to be involved in CarFit,” she says, and she was up to the challenge. She found a large parking lot in which to hold the event, recruited the senior drivers by distributing flyers, obtained safety vests for the technicians through the Florida Department of Transportation, and put together goody bags containing educational materials for the participants.
On the day of the event, Lanford and and McCarthy helped supervise and served as onsite occupational therapy practitioners. Fran Carlin-Rogers, CarFit’s event coordinator, ran the event after training the students to use the program’s structured series of interviews and exercises with drivers. On the day of the event, the parking lot was set up with one entrance and one-way traffic only. When an older driver entered the parking lot, he or she stopped at a check-in station to fill out paperwork. Then the driver was directed to a check-up station. There, the occupational therapy students went through the questions and checklist and recorded their observations.
Next, the driver went to the last station, staffed by an occupational therapist. The therapist quickly reviewed the information on the checklist and talked to the driver. “It’s what I call a ‘curbstone conversation,” explains Carlin-Rogers. “It’s not a clinical service or a consultation, but it’s a clinical set of eyes reviewing [the students’] checklist.” The occupational therapist spent several minutes talking to the driver and making recommendations, such as pedal extenders so the driver could more easily reach the gas and brake pedals; and demonstrating proper placement of, say, the rearview mirror or seat. “The occupational therapist is the last person the senior interacts with,” Carlin-Rogers says.
Educating Older Drivers—and Students
Rather than physically changing something in an older driver’s vehicle, “CarFit is all about teaching the senior. It is purely an educational program,” Carlin-Rogers says. “If there is a problem with the placement of the outside mirrors, we demonstrate where to position it, put it back the way it was, and provide information so the senior can do mirror adjustments at home.” Each older driver received a copy of his or her checklist in addition to the educational goody bag.
The older drivers who participate in CarFit love the program. It’s not unusual for them to recommend it to a friend. “I loved getting to see people’s reactions when they learned something new. Everyone was excited and there was lots of energy. It was great to just be here for the community,” Lanford says.
The drivers weren’t the only ones receiving an education; the occupational therapy students developed professional skills as well. “They got to apply some hands-on application of some of the concepts they learned in class. It got them to observe and to really learn by doing,” McCarthy says. “A large number of students got the opportunity to think about [community mobility] as part of their practice and to incorporate the IADL of driving as part of their profession.”
By all accounts, students excelled at this chance to strut their stuff. “The students interacted really well with the seniors. They were comfortable, and you could just see these were experienced students. They were a terrific group of folks,” says Carlin-Rogers.
Occupational therapy is, of course, a key component of the CarFit program. “I hope I don’t ever do a CarFit event without an occupational therapist there. They are a critical community resource and essential to this program really being available to the community,” says Carlin-Rogers.
According to McCarthy, based on the positive feedback from students and drivers, “we will definitely do this again next year.”
Ashley Opp Hofmann is AOTA’s Senior Staff Writer.