June 2010 cover SCAN"St. Catherine University St. Catherine University
February 2011
 
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Pedal to the Mettle

OT students learn to help older drivers feel safe behind the wheel.

OT students and Sisters of St. Joseph at the safe driving classSafe-driving class instructors and students (from left): Polly Preston, CSJ, Sara Mueller '12 OT, Betty McKenzie, CSJ, Sheryl Butler '12 OT, Jane Hurley, CSJ.

Helping a group of CSJs improve their driving skills with the aid of a Nintendo Wii was an academic endeavor for a group of St. Kate's occupational therapy graduate students.

The Sisters — all senior citizens — played a Wii game that gauged their reaction time by challenging them to head soccer balls and dodge shoes. It was an experiment in using new-generation technology to assess a fundamental skill — and to help the Sisters determine whether they still should be behind the wheel.

Occupational Therapy Associate Professor Catherine Sullivan, Ph.D., OTR/L, led two safe-driving master's projects last year, each involving eight group sessions with CSJs. Sullivan says her research is fueled by a simple reality: "Driving is such a lifeline."

Moira Olson '11 and her classmates developed a host of tips for older drivers to become more effective: raise the steering wheel and adjust it so the air bag will protect your chest; allow at least 10 inches between wheel and chest; and scan your visual field.

The Sisters absorbed the education. One lost weight in order to become a more agile driver. Another decided it was time to hang up her keys. One stopped avoiding roundabouts.

The OT students learned alongside the Sisters. Olson now has a greater appreciation of mobility and how occupational therapists empower others as she zips around in her Saturn wagon. "I'm so grateful I was exposed to this," she says.
— Christina Capecchi

 
From the Heart