Occupational Therapy: More Than Just the Physical
When you think of occupational therapy, it is easy to assume this type of therapy is for people who are working their way back from an injury or illness. The term itself conjures up a senior recovering from a stroke or a person who is rehabilitating after a serious car accident. In reality, occupational therapy encompasses much more than that.
What is Occupational Therapy?
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, the practice of occupational therapy is defined as:
“… the only profession that helps people across the lifespan to do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations). Occupational therapy practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness, or disability.”
An occupational therapist (OT) works with people of all ages. For example they might work with a child who has a disability. The goal could be to teach them how to use an adaptive tool to tie their own shoes. Another OT might help a senior who has vision loss learn new ways to safely prepare meals.
The overall goal of occupational therapy is often described as helping a patient achieve their highest practical functional level.
And it’s important to know that occupational therapy isn’t dedicated exclusively to gaining or regaining physical skills. An occupational therapist can also provide assistance with improving memory. OT exercises that assist in enhancing memory can be as simple as working puzzles, reading stories in magazines, and engaging in memory-building art projects.
Occupational Therapy Tips for Seniors
If a senior you love is preparing to begin occupational therapy, there are steps you can take to ensure the best possible outcome. Those include:
- Set goals: Work with the therapist to set realistic goals. While the ultimate goal may be to drive a car again, it helps to break that goal down into smaller objectives. It might be to regain the range of motion necessary to look over their shoulder and merge in traffic. Another objective might be to master pulling the seat belt over their shoulder and locking it.
- Encourage patience: Along these same lines is the need to be patient. One of the challenges seniors face as they begin their therapy is that it often takes time to make progress. Encourage your senior loved one to be patient and not be hard on themselves.
- Dress comfortably: Therapy can be hard work! Dressing comfortably, including wearing comfortable shoes, can help make occupational therapy sessions a little easier.
- Celebrate small victories: You can also help your loved one stay motivated by celebrating small victories with them. This is especially true if they have a long road ahead of them with regard to their recovery. It might be with lunch out, a bouquet of flowers or a milkshake from their favorite ice cream shop.
Occupational Therapy and Mental Health
Occupational therapists can also play an essential role in the patient’s mental health. For a teen who has a disability, working with an OT to learn how to master tasks they struggle with can lift the spirits and improve their quality of life. The same holds true for older adults.
When a senior has experienced a fall, a stroke or another type of illness or injury that has left them with a physical loss, working with an occupational therapist can help improve their physical and mental well-being. Feeling as if they are making progress, even if it is slow progress, can help boost mood and ward off depression.
Griswold’s Free Occupational Therapy Guide
For caregivers interested in learning more about occupational therapy for a loved one, we invite you to download our free Occupational Therapy Guide. From cooking to personal care, it will help you explore all of the tasks occupational therapists can provide assistance with.