Serious injuries and diseases can have a major effect on one’s muscle strength and coordination. In some instances, this may require that the person learn how to walk on their own. As the name suggests, occupational therapy (OT) is also designed to assist individuals with valuable skills they can use to remain independent.
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, occupational therapists help people participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. Common occupational therapy interventions include helping people recovering from an injury or health event to regain skills, and providing support for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.
Occupational therapy services typically include assisting the client/family, and occupational therapists determine what the person’s goals are – not just to follow a plan of care prescribed by a healthcare professional.
What do you want to do to maintain or restore your quality of life? Is it being able to walk into the back yard and plant flowers; to cook a meal; to write a letter to your grandson or daughter; or play cards with your friends again? Occupational therapists will consider your goals in helping to plan a customized intervention to improve your ability to perform daily activities and will evaluate your progress to achieve the goals you have set.
Geriatric Occupational Therapy for Older Adults
To provide some helpful insight into how OT operates, consider the scenario of someone who has suffered from a stroke. Before the occurrence, they had no problem walking or speaking clearly, or making use of basic motor skills that are essential for virtually all jobs. Following a stroke, many of those basic functions we take for granted may be compromised.
It is worth emphasizing that life-threatening illnesses and medical conditions rarely inflict just physical damage. The thought of not being able to work or live independently can be mentally and emotionally harmful as well. An article by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) demonstrated that stroke victims who receive regular OT are far more likely to regain their independence and ability to perform everyday functions following treatment.
As mentioned in another AOTA article, many patients who participate in occupational therapy programs also suffer from some degree of depression. The therapist’s role is to facilitate the reintegration process, and to help the person get back to a healthy physical, mental, and emotional state. Family caregivers can play a vital role in a loved one’s recovery by encouraging parents who may be reluctant to join OT sessions because of misconceptions concerning its importance.
A landmark study conducted by the University of Southern California over 17 years ago concluded that occupational therapy is not restricted to the ill or infirm. As noted by USC’s Health Science Campus’s research team, “The Well Elderly Study shows promise for utilizing OT concepts to prevent disease and maintain health in the general public.”
Occupational Therapy Treatment Ideas for Geriatrics
One of the most important things you and your loved one can do before signing up for geriatric occupational therapy is to have realistic expectations about how long a successful recovery will take. The degree of success and rate at which particular milestones are met is wholly dependent on each individual’s circumstances and their willingness to participate.
The road to recovery is not easy, but with the help of a qualified occupational therapist, your goals can be placed in better reach. Consult with your loved one’s doctor about which OT options they recommend, and ask as many questions as you feel necessary. Remember, the final decision is yours to make, and you want to be adequately informed.
The field of geriatric occupational therapy has experienced a wealth of diversification, as more and more practitioners are adopting new treatment methods to suit their clients’ needs. These new methods are more open to program changes that are in line with the individual patient’s progression. For instance, a recent study concluded that occupational therapy interventions may improve quality of life in older adults with dementia. The study focused on 5 types of occupational therapy activities for older adults:
- Relaxation techniques: tensing and releasing muscle groups.
- Physical exercises: range of movement, medicine ball training, and squatting.
- Personal activities: personal care, dressing and undressing, and household tasks.
- Cognitive exercises: loud reading, dual task activity, and neurobic exercise.
- Recreational activities: playing indoor games, story telling, and social events.
While no one type of occupational therapy is better than the next, work with your loved one and their doctor to evaluate which type of therapy is the ideal choice for their circumstances, whether the primary focus is mobility strengthening, to maintain the cognitive skills to live independently or overall well-being.
Are you a therapist with suggestions that you’d like to add? What was it that made you or your loved one decide you were interested in OT? Share your story with us in the comments below.