Occupational therapy helps patients recover or develop skills needed for the activities of daily living, including self-care, leisure, independent living, and work. Therapists work in hospitals, in schools, in nursing homes and with patients in their own homes.
Patients who benefit from occupational therapy, or OT, include people who have had strokes, people with autism and other developmental disorders, people recovering from certain surgeries (including hip replacement), people who suffer from depression or anxiety, as well as veterans and the elderly.
History and goals
Modern occupational therapy is rooted in the late 1800s, when therapists began to work in hospitals, using hands-on activities to engage patients with both mental and physical illnesses, usually arts and crafts.
Before , occupational therapy was used primarily in mental health institutions, and what they found was patients who engaged in normal, everyday life activities — like crafts, farming or cleaning — seemed to be healthier. These findings led doctors to encourage patients to engage in such activities regardless of their class or social status.
This focus on rehabilitating not just the body, but also the mind, sets occupational therapy apart from physical therapy. Physical therapy focuses on the body’s strength and ability to move, whereas occupational therapy is concerned with overall function. The “occupation” part of this therapy simply refers to normal, meaningful life activities — from brushing one’s teeth to cooking dinner.
A patient recovering from hip surgery will likely see both a physical and an occupational therapist, who frequently work closely together. The physical therapist would focus on improving the patient’s strength and range of motion, while the occupational therapist would teach the patient to navigate his or her environment with a walker, how to get in and out of bed safely and how to get dressed without assistance. They might also evaluate the patient’s home for possible dangers, such as rugs that pose a tripping hazard.
Occupational therapists use and develop adaptive technologies for people who need them. A hip replacement patient cannot bend from the waist while healing, so an occupational therapist might give him or her a sock aid, a device that looks like a tube attached to two long cords. With this adaptive device, the person can slip a sock on without bending over.
What does an occupational therapist do?
In hospitals, OTs help patients with daily activities — such as dressing, bathing and brushing their teeth — that they will need to do successfully to go home. They also help patients in long-term care, such as nursing homes or rehabilitation facilities. An occupational therapist in a nursing home might have a patient practice shooting hoops with a toy basketball and net in order to work on balance and hand-eye coordination, with the goal of improving mobility and reducing falls but, there are OT’s who can help from the comfort of your own home like the ones at Home Health CC.
Occupational therapists work with people who have experienced traumatic brain injuries in both short-term and long-term rehabilitation hospitals. They might develop activities that help stroke victims learn to use their limbs again, or they might help military veterans hurt by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) regain their cognitive facilities. They might take brain-injured people to the grocery store to help them relearn how to shop, or to a crowded mall to help them find strategies to cope with overwhelming situations.
There are also OTs who work specifically with the elderly, as well as those who work in hospice facilities. For those nearing the end of life, occupational therapy can help provide a continuation of a regular routine and ensure that a person stays involved in daily activities, such as cooking, eating, cleaning or exercising.