Occupational Therapy: What Is It and How Does it Help?

You’ve probably heard the phrase occupational therapy before, but are you aware what an occupational therapist actually does for you or your loved ones? Occupational therapists are helpful for anyone who needs assistance with everyday tasks, from keeping up a household to taking care of nutrition. 

Because April is occupational therapy awareness month, spring is a great time to educate yourself on how these caring individuals can help you or a loved one after the stress of an illness or injury — or any life change at all. 

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, occupational therapy services typically include the following: 

  • • An individualized evaluation, during which the client/family and occupational therapist determine the person’s goals
  • • Customized intervention to improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities and reach the goals
  • • An outcomes evaluation to ensure that the goals are being met and/or make changes to the intervention plan.

Evaluation of home and other typical environments, and how these environments might help or hinder a person’s situation, is common with occupational therapy. For example, if a home is set up in a certain way that makes it difficult for a person with disabilities to navigate easily, an occupational therapist can suggest and support changes. They can also teach you new ways to do tasks, such as getting dressed, preparing meals or even working at the office. 

All ages can benefit from occupational therapy, from babies to senior citizens. Patients with certain illnesses and injuries can find an occupational therapist through hospitals, private practices or rehab centers. According to WebMD, the most common illness and injuries that OPs work with include: 

  • • Arthritis and Chronic Pain
  • • Stroke
  • • Brain Injury
  • • Joint Replacement
  • • Spinal Cord Injury
  • • Low Vision
  • • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • • Poor Balance
  • • Cancer
  • • Diabetes
  • • Multiple Sclerosis
  • • Cerebral Palsy
  • • Mental Health Or Behavior Issues

How do you know if your loved one needs an occupational therapist?

For Elders

Curious about whether your aging parent might benefit from working with an occupational therapist? Here are a few reasons to consider one. 

 Lack of Interest or Engagement 

Has your loved one lost interest in things that previously made them happy, such as hobbies and spending time with others? This might be a symptom of struggling with everyday tasks. 

Lack of Hygiene 

Noticing that your loved one’s hygiene has declined or the household has become less tended could mean that a little extra assistance is necessary. 

Poor Balance and Coordination 

Declining mobility or regular falls is also a reason to get in touch with an occupational therapist and determine how the home environment might be a factor. 

A Change in Health 

Of course, a drastic change due to illness, injury, surgery or any other health setback is a reason to consider calling an occupational therapist. 

For Children

Children, too, can benefit from occupational therapy. Here are a few reasons that an occupational therapist might be right for your child. 

 Difficulty Achieving Milestones 

If your child is not hitting the appropriate milestones for his or her age group, an occupational therapist can support a plan of action. 

Difficulty with Play

For young children, play is a way to learn problem-solving and other important life lessons. If your child is not playing with others or able to self-entertain, consider an occupational therapist. 

Poor Social Skills

Lack of eye contact and other withdrawn social behavior in young children is another reason to work with an occupational therapist. 

Poor Gross and/or Fine Motor Skills 

Working with an occupational therapist can improve quality of life for the child with poor motor skills. 

Written by: Denise K. James

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