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The Role of an Occupational Therapist
Someone who is aging, suffering from an illness or recovering from an injury may have difficulty taking care of their own daily needs. They may benefit from working with various healthcare professionals. For example, they may receive care from occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists, nurses, caregivers, doctors, social workers and/or case managers.
If your loved one needs help with everyday tasks due to physical or cognitive difficulties, they may benefit from the services of an occupational therapist (OT).
What is an OT?
The role of an OT is to look at each client’s daily routine and determine the tasks that make their days successful and meaningful. They look at how each client takes care of themself, manages their home and goes out into their community. OTs work with their clients to make sure they are safe and independent. This can be done in many ways.
An OT may teach a client new techniques so that tasks can be accomplished more easily. For example, they may show a female client how to clasp her bra first and then put it on over her head, instead of struggling with the clasp in the back. An OT may adapt a client’s environment by organizing the installation of grab bars, finding an appropriate chair for the shower or raising the height of a couch so it is easier for a person to stand up. Or, an OT may provide special tools to help a person complete specific tasks—a walker with a basket to safely transport breakfast from the counter to the table, a device to help put on socks, a reacher to help pick up the newspaper from the driveway. OTs also develop programs for improved strength, mobility, endurance and balance. By enhancing these skills, a person will be better able to live their lives.
Another role of an OT is prevention of injury. OTs can look proactively at a client’s home and community to enhance their safety by preventing falls or accidents. Providing intervention prior to a fall is essential in maintaining a person’s health and mobility. Some areas that an OT may look at for fall/accident prevention are: vision, medications, footwear, tripping hazards, stairs, balance and lighting.
Who May Benefit from Working with an OT?
Occupational therapists work with clients following any life event that has affected a person’s quality of life, independence or safety. People with the following health problems and others can benefit:
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Spinal Cord Injury
- Hip and Knee Joint Replacements
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
These questions will help you know if someone you know would benefit from working with an OT?:
- Do they want help staying in their own home rather than moving to an assisted living situation?
- Have they fallen? Or, do they limit their activities because they are afraid of falling?
- Do they have difficulty taking care of themself — taking a shower, getting dressed, using the restroom?
- Do they have difficulty doing household tasks — cooking, doing laundry, cleaning/maintaining the house?
- Do they have difficulty getting things done in their community — shopping, banking, running errands?
- Do they have difficulty getting where they need to go — driving, using public transportation, walking in their neighborhood?
- Do they have difficulty remembering important tasks — taking medications, turning off the stove, paying bills on time?
- Do they have difficulty participating in their regular social activities/hobbies —meeting friends for lunch, going to church, exercise, art, music?
OTs and Caregivers
An OT will first look at a client’s ability to be safe and independent. However, if the client still needs assistance with any part of their daily routine, then the client may need to hire and manage a caregiver.
An OT can help with many aspects of the caregiving process. For example, an OT can:
- Guide a client and family in hiringcaregivers
- Help determinethe tasks that require assistance
- Assist in establishing a caregiving schedule
- Trainthe caregivers in the procedures involved in caring for their client
- Teach the caregivers how to keep themselves safe while they work (i.e.: protecting their backs while they lift)
Caregiver training is highly specialized based upon the experience of the caregiver and the needs of the client. OTs often train caregivers so they can help their clients: move from place to place (i.e. in and out of bed, on and off the toilet, in and out of their shower, in and out of a car), do an established exercise routine, walk or use their wheelchair, get dressed, take a shower, use the restroom, go into the community, stretch their joints and/or monitor their skin integrity. Hiring and working with a caregiver can be complicated until a consistent routine is established. An OT can help organize this process for a smoother transition.
For more information about occupational therapy go to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) website at www.aota.org.
DISCLAIMER: This article contains information that is intended to help the readers be better informed regarding exercise and health care. It is presented as general advice on health care. Always consult your doctor for your individual needs. Before beginning any new exercise program it is recommended that you seek medical advice from your personal physician. This article is not intended to be a substitute for the medical advice of a licensed physician. The reader should consult with their doctor in any matters relating to his/her health.