Published on April 19, 2021

occupational therapist and patient

How Occupational Therapists Help Patients Regain Independence

If you need help addressing a disability, illness or injury that has left you with physical, sensory, or cognitive impairments, an occupational therapist (OT) may be the healthcare professional to seek. Read on to learn more about who they are, what they do and how they can help.

You can get back to activities you enjoy and increase your independence when you work with a rehabilitation program guided by an occupational therapist. An OT can help you relearn skills or learn an easier way to perform a task.

What Occupational Therapists Do

Occupational Therapy is defined by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) as the therapeutic treatment for people to develop, recover, or maintain their everyday skills.

Those who work in this field are called occupational therapists (OT). They have masters’ degrees and are trained to break down the barriers that impede injured, ill or disabled people’s ability to engage in normal life activities. They help patients determine the activities that are most meaningful to them and then develop strategies that empower them to accomplish them, despite their setbacks.

Some of these strategies include exercising to increase muscle strength, range of motion, and coordination and practicing self-care or activities of daily living (ADL) such as eating, bathing, dressing, grooming.

What Conditions Can be Treated by Occupational Therapists

Occupational Therapists help a wide variety of patients of all ages and a wide variety of conditions, including the following:

  • Hands and upper extremity injuries: Shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist, and hand injuries are a primary focus for OTs, and many are certified hand therapists. The goal of therapy is to return the client to meaningful participation in his or her daily activities.

  • Brain injury: OT practitioners assist brain injury patients in reintegrating back into the community. Because every brain injury is different, each person’s community reintegration plan is customized to their needs.

  • Developmental & intellectual disabilities: Occupational therapists work with individuals to develop their skills and abilities to perform daily activities at home, work, school, or in the community. The overall goal is to enable participation in society.

  • Cancer: Occupational therapists help patients prevent or reduce functional deficits due to treatment to improve long-term outcomes.

  • Chronic diseases: Heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity are the leading causes of death and disability. Occupational therapists make recommendations on how to conserve energy, reduce or prevent pain, simplify activities and improve the safety and ease of functioning in a particular environment such as home, school or work.

  • Stroke: Stroke survivors face multiple challenges -- weakness on one side of the body, inability to walk and care for themselves, a decline in cognitive and emotional functioning. Occupational therapy can be instrumental in addressing these challenges at all stages in their care.

  • Upper-limb amputation: Trauma, malignancy, congenital deficiencies, and vascular disease can result in these amputations. An occupational therapy practitioner recognizes the complexity of the condition, including psychological well-being, and will work with a multidisciplinary team to provide the client with the most successful holistic rehabilitation and prosthetic training.

Where you’ll find Occupational Therapists

The majority of OTs work in acute hospital settings where they can begin working with patients early in their recovery process to determine the best treatments and help prevent further decline.

You’ll find the rest among post-acute settings, such as skilled nursing facilities, inpatient rehabilitation hospitals and outpatient rehabilitation clinics. Patients work intensively with an OT during rehabilitation to further improve on their conditions, develop sustained strength and better perform in ADLs.

If you are seeking help to participate more fully in your life following a health incident or disability, request information about Adventist HealthCare Rehabilitation’s occupational therapy services.

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