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Program designed by OT professor wins award

May 14, 2010

KALAMAZOO--A program designed in part by a Western Michigan University professor that evaluates the homes of senior citizens has won an award and $10,000 in funding.

The Michigan American Association of Retired Persons won the AARP Member Value Innovation Award for the Home Fit Program, which helps educate people about how their homes can fit them for a lifetime. The program was designed by Dr. Debra Lindstrom-Hazel, WMU professor of occupational therapy, and Karen Kafantaris, Michigan American Association of Retired Persons associate state director for livable communities. The award money will be used to improve the program in collaboration with the American Occupational Therapy Association.

"We help people learn about some of the minor--and sometimes major--changes they need to make so they can stay in their homes as long as they choose," Lindstrom-Hazel says.

For example, someone living in a home where the only full bathroom is on the second floor would have trouble if they end up with knee problems, Lindstrom-Hazel says. In addition to bathroom access, the program focuses on getting into and out of the home and getting around the house, especially areas of importance.

"For some people, it may mean moving the laundry to the main floor," she says. "For others it may be access to a room with their computer or craft supplies."

Staying in a home is important to many people, who have the goal of "aging in place," Lindstrom-Hazel adds.

"AARP research has found that most people over 50 want to stay in their own homes as they age," she says. "In order to do that, you have to make sure that you will be able to manage living in your home physically."

The award was given during a virtual ceremony this spring that connected the association's national office in Washington, D.C. with Michigan's AARP office and association offices that also won awards in eight other states.

The Home Fit Program was initiated at the WMU College of Health and Human Services in October 2009. Students in WMU's occupational therapy class on assistive technology have been involved in the planning and presentations of Home Fit projects.

The program also was carried out in April in Okemos, Mich., and will be undertaken in May in Ann Arbor.

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Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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