Occupational therapy is a rehabilitative specialty that provides therapeutic interventions that work to enhance patients' ability to participate in the meaningful activities of daily life, despite the presence of impairments in physical, mental or cognitive functioning. So who can benefit from occupational therapy? What can patients who undergo this type of therapy expect? To answer these questions and others for patients considering therapy, here is a brief guide to occupational therapy and how it works.
What is occupational therapy and who can benefit from it?
People who can benefit from occupational therapy include individuals of any age who have disabilities or impairments, whether these conditions are temporary in nature or permanent. This includes people who are recovering from injury, illness, surgery, stroke or other traumatic medical problems; older adults experiencing physical or cognitive changes; and adults and children diagnosed with developmental disabilities.
The primary goal of occupational therapy is to help patients reach their highest level of function in their daily lives. It focuses on each patient's daily activities, using therapeutic exercise and activities, education, adaptive equipment and environmental modifications to help patients do the things they want and need to do every day more easily and efficiently.
For instance, occupational therapists may help patients who have had joint replacement surgery adapt to their new joint, learning how to navigate daily activities—such as dressing, bathing, getting around, cooking and other household tasks—safely and efficiently as they recover and rehabilitate. Therapy may help arthritis patients learn how to control pain and stiffness, improve joint function, and/or perform daily tasks differently or use adaptive equipment or splints to relieve stress on affected joints. Stroke patients often undergo therapy to relearn lost skills or to regain strength, function and/or dexterity in affected muscles.
How does it work?
The process begins with an assessment of a patient's medical condition and history, current ability levels and individual needs in terms of difficulties in performing activities that they want, need or are expected to manage day to day. Then, a customized intervention plan is formulated to address those needs. Goals are set for each area in which a patient's abilities need improvement, and concrete steps are outlined to help patients meet those goals.
Interventions commonly used in occupational therapy include manual therapy techniques, such as massage or heat and cold therapies; therapeutic exercise and stretching; and activities to increase strength, endurance, flexibility and dexterity. Patient education is a major component of therapy, helping patients learn about their conditions and how to manage them more effectively, learn and implement techniques for easier and more efficient navigation of daily activities and, if necessary, educate them in the use of adaptive equipment, such as reachers, specialized dishes and/or utensils and dressing aid. Therapists may also suggest and educate patients about modifications to the home or workplace environment to enhance functionality and increase independence.
Once an intervention plan is put into motion, progress is assessed regularly throughout the treatment process. This ensures that adjustments to the treatment plan can be made as necessary, maximizing the effectiveness of therapy.