Occupational therapy may not be familiar to you, but it’s an extremely beneficial service for anyone that’s ever suffered an injury that impacts their daily functioning, had to have surgery to replace a hip or other joint, had to adjust to changes in vision or declining health, etc.
While it can be easy to accept your limited functioning as “just how it is” during your recovery or once symptoms of a health concern progress or appear, that doesn’t always have to be the case. Occupational therapists are there to help you improve your life and adjust to your new needs. So What exactly is occupational therapy and how can it help?
What is Occupational Therapy?
In essence, occupational therapy works to solve problems that get in the way of the patient being able to do their day-to-day functioning and things they love. This can mean different things for different patients, and occupational therapists will work with the patient to set their own goals and ideal outcomes.
Occupational therapists are unique in that they apply a psychosocial view and their knowledge of the limitations (both medically and physically) associated with various types of disabilities, injuries, and chronic health concerns to assess and address functional concerns of patients. This means looking at how the patient currently functions day-to-day, the things they can no longer do that they wish they could, and works to solve issues and barriers to allow patients to achieve their goals for functioning and wellness.
Occupational therapy addresses most areas of a patient’s life and functioning including:
- Productive activities and tasks – work, school, community involvement.
- Self-Care – dressing, hygiene, eating.
- Social and leisure activities – sports, house maintenance, gardening, social outings, creative endeavours.
How Can Occupational Therapy Help?
Occupational therapists perform extensive assessments of physical and mental abilities, social and emotional support systems, current aids and devices and space(s) in order to gain a full understanding of the barriers being faced and issues with functioning and activities. They will then work with the patient to set personal goals and ideal outcomes.
After the assessment, the occupational therapist will work to solve the identified issues in various ways, including:
- Education and activities – OTs often use a combination of education and activities that help you to better understand your disability or health concern and how you can do things better with the abilities and aids that you have. They may also suggest activities or exercises to improve or maintain your abilities.
- Make changes to your environment(s) and things you use – OTs can help you change your physical space to be more conducive to your needs and day-to-day functioning. This includes home, work and school spaces but may also include finding support in your area to help streamline things for you such as transportation options, disability services at school or government funding. Additionally, OTs can look at the items you use daily, or items necessary to do the things you want to be able to do, and find alternatives that are easier for you to use or make adjustments to allow you to continue doing those things, for example, modifications to your car so you can continue to drive or an attachment for your keys so using/turning keys is easier for you.
Beneficial Outcomes of Occupational Therapy
Occupational Therapist can greatly improve many areas of a patient’s life, these benefits include:
- Greater confidence in self and abilities.
- Being able to continue work, school and other activities that the patient enjoys.
- Helping to avoid unnecessary hospital admissions.
- Maintaining independence and the ability to live and care for oneself.
- Improve chances of finishing school and reaching academic goals.
- Avoiding unemployment.
- Maintaining social support and relationships.
- Improved quality of life and mental health/wellness.
It’s hard to cope with changes to your functioning after injury, surgery or progressive health conditions. OTs aim to make your life easier through education and adjustments that allow you to continue to do the things that you love and maintain your sense of self, your confidence and control over your life.
Where Can I Find an Occupational Therapist?
Occupational therapists work in various sectors of the healthcare system and you may be assigned or come across an occupational therapist in a number of ways. You can find an occupational therapist by being assigned one after a hospital stay, as part of a rehabilitation program or after an accident. Many occupational therapists work out of clinics such as Empower Physical Rehabilitation alongside physiotherapists, chiropractors, massage therapists and other healthcare professionals that may be beneficial to you. You can also search your local occupational therapy association’s website for a list of occupational therapists near you.