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What is occupational therapy

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Nohemi Graehl, OTR/L

Occupational therapy (OT) helps people across the lifespan do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities. 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. OT provides treatments for emotional, physical, mental and developmental impairments and disabilities. Occupational therapists, or OTRs, are state-licensed therapists who have completed a bachelor’s, masters or doctoral program in order to evaluate the patient, establish the plan of care, and provide skilled treatment. An OTR will evaluate the patient’s situation and with input from the patient, family, and/or care provider develop individualized goals that allow return to prior level of function or occupation. Occupational therapist assistants, also known as occupational therapy assistants or COTAs graduate from a two-year associate’s program and can work with the patient once the OT establishes the plan of care.

Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing support for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes. Occupational therapy services typically include an individualized evaluation during which the patient and/or family and occupational therapist determine the person’s goals, customized intervention to improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities and reach their goals. They create an evaluation to ensure that the goals are being met and/or make changes to the intervention plan.

Occupational therapy practitioners have a holistic perspective, in which the focus is on adapting the environment and/or task to fit the person. The patient and family is an integral part of the therapy team. It is an evidence-based practice deeply rooted in science. The OT’s main focus is keeping the patient as independent and safe as possible. Occupational therapy helps elderly patients stay healthy and productive, helps stroke patients regain their arm strength after a stroke, instructs patients on ways to make homes safer to prevent falls, helps by recommending assistive devices, and helps children with developmental disability gain needed fine motor skills to reach developmental milestones. Occupational therapists also focus on the upper extremity, which means shoulder to fingertips, to help with handwriting or broken bones. Treatment can also include custom splinting.

Why would I need Occupational Therapy?

People who suffer from injuries secondary to an accident, have chronic disease, or have neurological conditions interfering with their daily activities benefit from occupational therapy. Examples include occupational therapy for handwriting after wearing a cast for a wrist fracture, ergonomic recommendations and exercises for a patient with arthritis, and developmental activities and parent suggestions to help a child have success in the classroom. Occupational therapy allows people across the lifespan do the activities they want and need to do.

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Nohemi Graehl, OTR/L, is an occupational therapist for Eastern New Mexico Medical Center’s Rehab Services. The advice offered in this column is that of the author.