In honor of April being National Occupational Therapy Month, Jessica Kasper, MS, OTR/L, explains the role occupational therapy can have in getting you back to everyday life after injury or illness
1. There's a difference between physical and occupational therapy
For many people, physical therapy is the first phrase that comes to mind when talking about physical rehabilitation. When asked to explain the benefits of occupational therapy, it is not uncommon for most people to be unfamiliar with the role it has recovery after an illness or injury.
While physical therapy restores strength and normal movement, occupational therapy reintroduces daily living activities many of us do as second nature. Occupational therapists, like myself, help people become more independent in their daily lives.
2. Occupational Therapy Focuses on Every Day Living
At Penn Rehab, patients receive physical, occupational and speech therapy on a daily basis during their inpatient rehabilitation. My favorite part about being an occupational therapist is helping people become more independent and confident completing activities that are meaningful to them.
For one person, this may be being able to cook breakfast for their grandkids, while for another it might be regaining the ability to clasp their own necklace. Understandably, it can be overwhelming and frustrating to struggle with activities that were once so simple. Together, we work on addressing obstacles then craft a treatment strategy centered on becoming more independent and functional.
Limitations and difficulties differ depending on each person and their needs. Areas of improvement I often work on with patients during occupational therapy sessions include:
- Personal care activities, such as getting dressed, brushing teeth, putting in contact, putting on socks and shoes
- Household chores including putting a load of laundry into the washer machine, meal preparation (preparing the ingredients, cooking, eating and cleaning up), putting sheets on the bed
- Building strength and endurance through specific exercise routines that will help the body be able to return to doing daily activities
- Identifying ways to make it easier to routine to everyday activities after injury or illness by improving vision, attention and thinking skills
3. Occupational Therapy is More Than Exercises
Depending on your needs and goals, your occupational therapist will work with you to identify resources that can maximize your independence by providing an alternative way of going about tasks.
- Reacher/Grabber stick: reaches items that are too high or low for them to safely retrieve
- Sock aid: assists with putting sock on when they are unable to bend down or lift their legs
- Adaptive utensils: alternative way of eating for those who have difficulty grasping standard utensils
- Steady writing instrument: guides hand to help balance and smooth hand movement for writing
- Grab bar: provides balance assistance in areas of the home
Your occupational therapist will be able to show you and your loved one/caregiver how to properly use any needed adaptive equipment to take full advantage of usage in a safe way. Additional resources for both patients and caregivers can be found on the American Occupational Therapy Association website (AOTA).
4. You Set the Goals, and We'll Help You Get There!
The most important thing to remember about occupational therapy is that it is all about you and your goals! Bring up questions and areas you want to work on that haven’t been addressed with your occupational therapist. As you guide your own recovery in occupational therapy, your occupational therapist will be there to support you every step of the way.