New Assistive Technology Kit to Aid Drake University’s Caregiver Learning Labs

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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Drake University’s Occupational Therapy Doctorate program is adding a new educational resource that will bring available assistive technology used in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis(ALS) to its Caregiver Learning Labs for patients and their families.

The new Assistive Technology Kit, which will be used in the labs to improve the learning opportunities and experiences of people with ALS and their caregivers, was acquired by the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association Iowa Chapter’s Reeves Foundation Grant.

“The readily available equipment within the department will improve classroom education, ensure students receive adequate training and time with the tools before working with clients in the Caregiver Learning Labs, support one-on-one student/clinical professor supervised interaction with ALS patients, and increase student and professor comfort with using these tools and interventions,” Yolanda Griffiths, the department chair and director of the occupational therapy program, said in a press release.

The Occupational Therapy department and the ALS Association Iowa Chapter have partnered since 2017 to carry out Caregiver Learning Labs.  These hands-on labs pair ALS caregivers and patients with students from the university’s OT department.

The three-hour long sessions, which run twice a year, are designed to decrease anxiety about being a caregiver, and make participants more confident in using the available technological resources. These learning labs aim to increase the use of adaptive equipment, and to improve safety measures and quality of life for people with ALS and their caregivers. They’re also thought to improve students’ knowledge on helping those affected by ALS.

While previous Caregiver Learning Labs received positive feedback, participants often reported that they would have preferred more time with alternative and augmentative communication, known as AAC, or AAC interventions.

In response to this feedback, the ALS Association Iowa Chapter used the ALS Reeves Foundation Grant to purchase an Assistive Technology Kit to improve the learning labs.

Assistive technology devices, or ATDs, are used to help ALS patients with mobility and speaking problems, and are critical for social participation. However, accessing these devices can be problematic for people with ALS and their caregivers due to their limited availability and costs.

“Iowa has a statewide need for professionals who are comfortable using and implementing AAC and Assistive Technology interventions,” said Krista Strait-Higgins, the director of care services for the ALS Association Iowa Chapter.

“The ALS Association Iowa Chapter wants to foster and encourage upcoming occupational therapy professionals to embrace the available technology and hopefully pursue careers specializing in this field,” Strait-Higgins added.