occupational therapist and man in wheelchair Your loved one wants to remain living at home for as long as she can. But lately, you’ve become worried about her ability to take care of day-to-day activities like cooking and grooming herself. Is it time to send her to an assisted care facility?

For some older adults, working with an occupational therapist can be the difference between living safely at home alone, and having to move to an assisted care facility. Four out of five Americans age 45 and older wish to live at home for as long as they can, according to the AARP. An occupational therapist can help them achieve this goal.

What is occupational therapy?

An occupational therapist is trained to help people accomplish the activities of daily living. Occupational therapists can work with your loved one to help her maintain independent living in her home. They can also work with older adults in assisted living facilities and senior centers.

An occupational therapist may help an older adult develop skills and overcome obstacles in many different areas. For example, an occupational therapist can help someone with vision loss due to glaucoma with activities that help improve vision, such as the ability to see patterns. For someone with a disability that prevents walking, an occupational therapist can help the person learn how to navigate with a wheelchair.

How is an occupational therapist different from a physical therapist?

While many people confuse occupational therapists with physical therapists, the two are different. A physical therapist helps someone with improving mobility. For example, if your loved one fractures a hip, a physical therapist will help her walk. An occupational therapist, by contrast, helps someone perform their daily tasks. An occupational therapist may teach someone with arthritis ways to move that protect the joints, for example.

Can occupational therapy help my loved one who has memory loss?

Yes. An occupational therapist can assist not only with physical challenges, but with mental ones as well. An occupational therapist may help someone with memory loss make sure their home is set up safely. An occupational therapist will also help someone with memory loss maintain as many daily activities as possible, working with them on using public transportation, shopping, and managing their money.

Though many people aren’t aware that occupational therapists can help older adults, their services can be invaluable in keeping your loved ones living as fully as possible. To find an occupational therapist near you, try this search tool.

Have you or a loved one had an OT? What made you decide you needed one? Share with us in the comments below.

  • Laura

    If your loved one has been recently hospitalized the services of an occupational therapist for a period of short duration may be paid for by Medicare as part of their payment for home health care. The occupational therapist can assess the home for safety, not only in ambulation and mobility, but in the bathroom for showering and grooming needs, in the kitchen for food preparation and eating, and throughout the house to assist in “activities of daily living.” In addition, the occupational therapist can make recommendations about useful gadgets and tools to make things easier when getting dressed, using the phone, reading the paper and a significant number of other important activities. If your loved one is hospitalized be sure to discuss occupational therapy with the discharge planner and the doctor. In order for Medicare to cover the cost there are certain criteria which must be met (the discharge planner should be familiar with them) and a doctor’s order is needed. You will be referred to a home health agency (you get to choose which one if you have a preference) and the doctor needs to write an order. Keep your loved one safe and active by using the services of an occupational therapist.