Occupational therapy can help people of all ages participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. Occupational therapy is a skilled health profession dedicated to the improvement and maximization of function and performance so that people can live healthier, more productive, and more satisfying lives. A licensed occupational therapist can help people strengthen their upper body, improve their balance, improve home safety, teach individuals how to use recommended adaptive equipment, and educate family and caregivers on the best ways to care for a loved one.
If a nurse notes that a patient is having difficulty completing activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, or eating, they may ask for a referral for an occupational therapist. Nurses are a vital part of a full care team and must work in conjunction with the occupational therapists to help a person reach individual goals and maintain their maximum level of independence.
Often, occupational therapists recommend activities or modifications to help a range of people achieve personal goals: they can help individuals with disabilities participate fully in academic or social settings, help those recovering from injury regain a specific skillset, and provide support for older adults experiencing physical or cognitive decline. For example, if a stroke survivor experienced loss of some function on one side of their body, the occupational therapist would assess the home for any safety concerns and create a customized plan, including recommended home modifications and adaptive equipment such as safety bars, a shower bench, or wheelchair ramp. The OT would then train the individual on how to use any new equipment to help them maintain a sense of normalcy as they adjust to their new surroundings, and would also teach the individual’s family members how to use new equipment, how to lead daily exercises, or other ways to best support their loved one.
Occupational therapy can be particularly beneficial for older adults wanting to maintain a sense of independence.
An OT can improve the lives of seniors by:
- Improving physical functioning in frail older adults, or seniors living with osteoarthritis and macular degeneration.
- Recommending home modifications and adaptive equipment to reduce functional decline and improve safety.
- Encouraging exercises involving functional activities, as well as progressive resistance strength training to improve mobility. Strengthening, balance retraining, and a walking plan are important in reducing the risk of falls and injuries for those over 80 years old.
- Scheduling on-road instruction to improve driving knowledge and skills and enhance on-road safety.
- Using bioptics to improve simulated and on-road driving skills, as well as outdoor mobility skills for older adults with visual impairments.
- Supporting training of life and social skills to help older adults with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other forms of cognitive decline to improve daily interactions.
- Creating a health plan, including physical activity regimen, outdoor activities, cognitive training and social stimulation to reduce the risk of depression and improve community involvement.
Older adults are not the only ones who can benefit from occupational therapy. An OT can greatly improve the lives of people living with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or other chronic diseases, as well as individuals who have survived a sudden health crisis. Here are a few of the ways an OT can help!
- Multiple sclerosis: Inpatient rehabilitation can reduce the severity of symptoms of the disease and improve the ability to complete activities of daily living. Personalized, computerized cognitive training programs at home can also improve attention, memory, information processing, and executive functioning.
- Parkinson’s Disease: Repetitive physical exercises can improve diachronic motor and sensory-perceptual performance skills.
- Post-Stroke Recovery: Specialized therapy plans can help individuals achieve personal recovery goals. An OT will provide instructions that focus on task-related parameters as opposed to specific movements.
Remember that occupational therapy is especially beneficial for recovery following a hospital discharge from stroke, surgery, fall, or other health crisis. Occupational therapy can help people return to their previous level of functioning and increase independence. Whether people need assistance with post-hospital recovery, home safety, or socialization, occupational therapy can help in meaningful ways because occupational therapists develop a personalized plan to help each individual achieve personal goals.
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (2015). Better care. Smarter spending. Healthier people: Paying providers for value, not volume [Press release].
Hay, J., LaBree, L., Luo, R., Clark, F., Carlson, M., Mandel, D., Azen, S. P. (2002). Cost effectiveness of preventive occupational therapy for independent-living older adults. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 50(8), 1381–1388. See more at: http://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Professionals/EBP/Cost-Effective-Health-Care-Reform.aspx#sthash.8JnQX5Zr.dpuf
Jutkowitz, E., Gitlin, L. N., Pizzi, L. T., Lee, E., & Dennis, M. P. (2012). Cost effectiveness of a home-based intervention that helps functionally vulnerable older adults age in place at home. Journal of Aging Research, 680265. See more at: http://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Professionals/EBP/Cost-Effective-Health-Care-Reform.aspx#sthash.8JnQX5Zr.dpuf
Occupational Therapists. (2004) Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor ,Occupational Outlook Handbook.