Occupational Therapy Helps Maximize Safety, Independence, And Quality Of Life

Published: April 18, 2024

By Kerri Brady, OT

Are you or a loved one at an age when physical or cognitive impairments compromise your ability to perform activities of daily living (ADLs) – dressing, cooking, bathing, and eating – that are integral to living independently? Occupational therapy can improve your ability to perform these tasks safely, thereby improving your quality of life.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapists (OTs) specialize in task analysis. We work on improving your quality of life by restoring or modifying your abilities – physical and cognitive – to perform specific tasks, or ADLs.

OTs do not administer medication. Rather, we take a whole person approach to treatment by using exercise and education to address the limitations that physical and cognitive impairments, such as arthritis and memory loss, impose on your ability to get things done. We provide outpatient treatment if you are mobile, and at-home treatment if you are homebound.

What happens during an appointment with an occupational therapist?

First, we assess your ability to carry out ADLs. We take objective measures of how well your joints work, your sensation and pain levels, and the setup of your home. Next, we create your individualized treatment plan by asking a wide range of questions about your daily routines and where you need physical help, including:

  • Do you have trouble getting out of bed, to the bathroom, or dressed?
  • How is your home set up? Do you live on the first floor?
  • Are there any risk factors in your home, like stairs or throw rugs?
  • Do you work from home? How is your office arranged?
  • Does your bathroom have a shower stall or tub? Does it have a grab bar?
  • How high is the toilet?
  • How is your hand strength, physical sensation, and pain level?
  • How is your thinking?
  • How is your diet?

Once we complete the assessment, we work with you to create goals, a treatment plan, and determine treatment duration. An OT treatment plan typically entails three buckets: restorative intervention, learning modifications, and the use of adaptive devices. All aim to maximize independence and participation in daily life.

Restorative intervention entails improving physical function by addressing particular impairments. For example, if you struggle to carry groceries, then we provide exercises to improve your posture and the strength, dexterity, and coordination of your hands and arms.

Learning modifications are strategies that use the surrounding environment to modify an activity so that it is doable. If a pot of cooked pasta is too heavy for you to empty into a colander, then we will show you how to slide it from the stovetop onto a potholder and then to the edge of the sink, which gives you the leverage you need to tip it into the colander. If your stovetop is not in line with your counter or sink, then you can use a slotted spoon to empty the pasta, one spoonful at a time, into an adjacent bowl, reducing the weight of the pot until you can carry it to the colander.

Adaptive devices are tools that reduce the difficulty or pain of performing a task. For example, a jar opener with a special hand grip is good for arthritic hands, while a reacher will allow you to grab items with one hand, if a stroke has left the other hand unusable.

Falls happen commonly at home, so we work to prevent them by improving your posture, strengthening stomach and other muscles, and addressing vision issues. If you are a stroke patient who sees just one side of the room, we teach you to turn your head and locate the furniture and doors so you can navigate your movement. We also may recommend taping down or removing throw rugs, which can pose a tripping hazard.

Parkinson’s disease may impair your walking, in which case we work on strengthening your gait. We also ensure that every room in your home has something sturdy to secure your balance while you walk. We will probably urge you to wear shoes with rubber soles to prevent slippage on hardwood floors.

If you have cognitive issues, such as dementia, our assessment will target memory, recall, verbal expression, and problem solving. We teach you — and your care partner — strategies to remind you to take your medications, including posting sticky notes on the bathroom mirror, setting an alarm, or using a pillbox that organizes medications by the day.

Your care partner should participate in all aspects of your OT care. Meanwhile, we should know all your habits and day-to-day routines. The more we know about how you live and what you do, the simpler your treatment will be, and the easier it will be to perform ADLs and reclaim your independent quality of life. Learn more about our rehabilitation services.

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