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Living Your Best Life through Occupational Therapy

Written by: Trisha Deane, OT, (Well Care Home Health)
Edited by: Jennifer Cascio

April is National Occupational Therapy (OT) Month! It's the perfect time to spotlight my chosen profession, and pay tribute to my fellow OT colleagues for their commitment to helping patients live their best lives.  As an Occupational Therapist, I'm often asked about my job and what it entails. Most people are not familiar with Occupational Therapy's historical origins, which are based in psychology.

Doctor William Rush Dunton, Jr., also known as the "father of Occupational Therapy," was a psychiatrist who saw the impact that Occupational Therapy had on mentally ill patients. When patients were involved in occupations they enjoyed, their minds, bodies and souls were healed. In the 1920s, Dr. Dunton, Jr. noted that "occupation is as necessary as food and drink."

This multi-layered, holistic approach to patient care is the foundation of Occupational Therapy. Not only do Occupational Therapists help patients return to their daily activities following an illness, injury or surgery, we help patients live life to the fullest in the comfort of their own homes - physically, mentally, and spiritually.

We typically start by partnering with our patients to define what "living life to the fullest" means to that individual person. For some, a full life entails the ability to play the piano or tend to their garden. For others, it can mean cooking a homemade meal for their families again. Once we customize a "full life" therapy plan, it's full speed ahead!

The goal is to help our patients manage their daily living activities, return to hobbies they love, and also get their spirits up.

Here are three (3) ways Occupational Therapists help patients inside their homes:

1. Develop household modifications.
Bathrooms tend to pose the most difficulty for in-home care patients. It's where patients spend a lot of time. That's why OTs typically conduct bathroom modifications on their first evaluation visit to a patient's home. We'll examine the bathroom's arrangement, the shower area in particular, and check to see if it's a walk-in shower or a shower-tub. Suggested modifications could be a hand-held shower head or shower chair, depending on the individual patient's condition at the time. Kitchens also require adjustments at times. As Occupational Therapists, we'll assess the layout and see if commonly-used items should be temporarily relocated, or if certain items should be replaced altogether.

When it comes to hobbies, Occupational Therapists work with patients to get them back on track in doing the things they love. If someone loves gardening, for example, but can't make it outside to the garden just yet, we can bring the garden to the patient using small gardening pots inside the home, and practicing certain modified techniques.

Patients can sometimes become discouraged about daily activities and/or hobbies while in recovery. They don't realize modifications can make their lives more manageable. So it's our job as Occupational Therapists to educate our patients on these adjustments, and regain their confidence in their own ability to live independently.

2. Identify resources and adaptive equipment.
Most modifications require the use of adaptive equipment. Occupational Therapists will tap into the community's resources to ensure this equipment is available and installed for patients. As noted above, some equipment is related to bathroom and kitchen modifications, other adaptive equipment could be oxygen tanks, walkers, or electrical stimulation machines like TENS units, used to treat pain and increase muscle stability.

3. Teach proper body mechanics.
Once the Occupational Therapist identifies and orders the adaptive medical equipment, we'll teach patients the proper ways to use them, within the limitations of their conditions. Patients that do not require adaptive equipment may still need to learn other body mechanics, like how to properly unload the washing machine or dishwasher, or access their kitchen pots and pans in a way that is safe and minimizes harm to themselves.

Talk to your physician about Well Care's services and receiving Occupational Therapy in the home. Our goal is to prevent a trip to the hospital, and help you live life to the fullest. We want to keep you healthy, happy, and at home.

To my fellow OTs, Happy Occupational Therapy Month!

About Trisha Deane:

Trisha joined Well Care Home Health as an Occupational Therapist (OT) in 2011. She has been an OT for 15 years with experience in multiple settings, including hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. She also worked as a pediatric Occupational Therapist for 5 years. A graduate of James Madison University, Trisha enjoys the flexibility and personalized environment that home health care provides.

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