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Health Beat: What to know about occupational therapy

By Chris Floyd

Vidant Health

What is occupational therapy?  This is a question I receive fairly often, and it means something different for each person.  The title, occupational therapy, is misleading for those outside of the profession.  It leads you to think of your work, your occupation, but it is so much more.

In a simplified definition, an occupational therapist is someone who helps you figure out the things you need to do to get through your day.  Your occupation could be in the things you do in the home.  The activities you perform may include activities to function in the home (bathing, dressing, and cooking) and the activities you need to run your home (planning meals, paying bills, and balancing your checkbook).  It often includes the physical demands of your job as well.  The focus of occupational therapy is regaining independence in activities that are meaningful to you in your daily life.  A common slogan, describing the profession, is “occupational therapy:  skills for the job of living”.

Current research supports occupational therapy for older adults.  Strength training is shown to improve community mobility and ambulation and improve ability to perform activities of daily living. Home modification and use of adaptive equipment can make the home safer.  An exercise program helps to improve balance and reduce falls in and out of the home.  Evidence supports occupational therapy after a stroke.  We can retrain the patient in activities of daily living so that they are more independent.   We can also help with cognitive rehabilitation and problem solving strategies needed for daily tasks.

There are many specialty areas within the umbrella of occupational therapy, including hand therapy, gerontology, mental health, pediatrics, driving and community mobility, and low vision assessment.   Skilled health professionals, occupational therapists or occupational therapy assistants, provide all these. My specialty is in hand therapy, evaluating and treating patients after injury or surgery, which can include fabrication of customized splints.  Many tasks that we perform each day include fine motor skills and coordination skills that are part of the treatment plan.

Occupational therapists are part of your healthcare team, including physical therapy, speech therapy, nursing, and the provider.  We all work to achieve the goals of the patient and family.  We can be found in the hospital, in outpatient clinics, school systems, nursing homes, and home health.  The treatment can be modified based on the needs of each patient and the setting.

How do you know if you need occupational therapy?  If you are recovering from an accident or illness, or just find that some skills are diminished due to the aging process, you may benefit from occupational therapy.  If you need help in regaining independence and safe mobility, want to improve your quality of life by modifying or adapting the activity, or want to enhance your function in and out of the home, you may benefit from occupational therapy.  All you need is a referral from your medical provider.

Elaine “Chris” Floyd is an occupational therapist with 40 years of experience, coming to Washington from Myrtle Beach, SC.  She is the lead occupational therapist with Vidant Beaufort Rehab Services. Therapy. She can be reached at 252-975-4395.