Because so much comfort comes from being in familiar surroundings, it isn’t shocking that more than 90% of senior adults prefer to remain at home as they age. The obstacle many people face, however, is living at home safely as they age. A growing trend to make that possible is to employ those earning the OTA degree: occupational therapy assistants (OTAs).
The reason is simple: OTAs are healthcare practitioners uniquely skilled at helping those who wish to live as independently as possible. That’s a superior reason to consider an occupational therapy assistant program.
First, a little background on what occupational therapy is. Many people with friends or family members who have disabilities or developmental/physical/emotional/mental challenges are familiar with the benefits of occupational therapy professionals.
Occupational therapists (OT) lead the occupational therapy process, recommending therapies for those seeking to recover from injuries or live with life-altering conditions. Working alongside them are the Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs). OTAs have the primary day-to-day responsibility to carry out therapy activities and monitor progress toward client goals.
Here’s how those who’ve earned an OTA degree fit into the “live safely at home” equation.
A primary learning goal on the way to an OTA degree is how to maximize individual clients’ abilities to allow full participation in daily life activities. Once occupational therapy clients are at home – usually by preference – they may need expert, individualized help.
Research shows that home modifications can benefit clients of all ages with health conditions, sensory or movement impairments, or cognitive disorders. Home modifications support the performance of necessary and desired daily activities while also enhancing personal safety and well-being.
The educational scope of the OTA degree includes recognizing how the living environment affects the ability to perform desired activities. OTs and OTAs can evaluate various client functions, including:
OTs and OTAs also evaluate home environments and identify barriers to performance. As part of the evaluation, the team typically analyzes how people interact with their environment while completing a task or activity.
This occupational therapy team may identify barriers to daily living performance, such as loose rugs or missing or faulty stair railings that could increase the risk of falls.
Physical modifications to the home might also be part of the therapy plan. These could include wider doorways to accommodate a wheelchair, entryway ramps, stair handrails, or bathroom grab bars.
Modifications and intervention strategies learned on the way to an OTA degree are always individualized and center on safety and independence in the home.
Finally, a personalized intervention plan may also include the introduction of adaptive equipment and family caregiver training.
The Effectiveness of OT/OTA Involvement
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) describes a demonstration project of this type involving senior adults facing difficulties with activities of daily living (ADLs). ADLs include dressing, eating, attending to hygiene, managing medications, etc.
After the 5-month program, 75% of those in this group had improved performance of ADLs. They also demonstrated decreased symptoms of depression.
Another program evaluation conducted by an external evaluator in 2019 surveyed homeowners who received home repairs and home modification services.
The results of modifications like adaptive tub and toilet installations, lighting improvements, and eliminating tripping hazards showed:
In 2021, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced it would provide up to $30 million to nonprofit organizations, state and local governments, and public housing authorities that provide repairs and home modifications for low-income older adults.
The Older Adults Home Modification Program (OAHMP), to ensure clients receive appropriate and beneficial home modifications, provides that occupational therapy practitioners are involved in modification projects.
What’s it Like to Earn an OTA Degree?
An Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S. degree) in Occupational Therapy Assistant is a two-year college degree consisting of 75 credit hours. More than 81% of OTAs have this degree.
An occupational therapy assistant program covers classwork, collaborative group projects, practice in simulated living labs, and question-and-answer sessions with instructors and those in the OTA workforce.
As early as the second term, OTA students begin mastering techniques to help clients achieve their best possible future – using a wheelchair, safety in the home, using adaptive tools and strategies.
Toward the end of the program, students complete their Level I and Level II fieldwork. Here, OTA students observe clients in real-world scenarios and then apply their skills and knowledge under the guidance of trained OTA evaluators.
Because of the demand, OTA salaries can equal some jobs requiring a four-year degree. Over the next decade, the projected growth for OTAs is 36%. In the U.S.News/Money annual survey of “best health care support jobs for 2021, occupational therapy assistants are in the top-15.
Real-time compensation data at Salary.com places salaries for experienced OTAs from $53,684 to $65,465. New occupational therapy assistants in the Midwest typically earn $45-$47,000, depending on where they want to work.
Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC), a nonprofit, private, healthcare-focused university in Overland Park, Kansas, offers the Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Occupational Therapy Assistant degree.
The CUKC Occupational Therapy Assistant program at CUKC is designed with insight from practicing occupational therapy professionals and employer organizations. The result is a comprehensive, applied-degree program that students complete in as little as two years.
Our program’s goal is to prepare you to become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). The CUKC program includes 16 core OTA courses and the required Level I and Level II fieldwork.
The coursework is presented in eight-week segments to immerse students in their class subjects. Classes start in spring, summer, and fall of each year.
Request more information from an admissions advisor, so you’ll receive our free CUKC eBook: Your Complete Guide to an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career.