What is occupational therapy?

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, June 6, 2023

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Life happens to all of us. Most of it is good, but sometimes the rains fall. It’s in the not-so-good times when you may need the help of an occupational therapist.

Occupational therapy is an evidence-based therapy that assists patients in readjusting to life after a debilitating life event or disease. An OT is the healthcare provider that helps you adapt and recover from physical, cognitive or sensory challenges to relearn routine tasks at home, school or work. Patients may need assistive devices that aid in performing everyday tasks, and the OT can evaluate the need and train in using the new apparatus.

Occupational therapists are often a crucial part of a patient’s recovery. While they don’t cure an injury, disease or disability, OTs work in parallel with your healthcare provider to help you regain control of your life and find alternative ways to make life easier or less painful. In addition, OTs take a holistic approach to the care of their patients, meaning they focus on adapting their environment to meet the patient’s needs. It is different from physical therapy, which focuses on improving their movement and flexibility.

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Driving a car, tying shoes, typing on a computer, brushing our teeth and making a meal are second nature and simple to many of us. But these undertakings may be challenging for someone recovering from a stroke, accident or illness. Patients can learn to acclimate to their new routine with an occupational therapy care plan.

People with dementia, Alzheimer’s, stroke, degenerative neuromuscular disorders, traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, paralysis and developmental disorders can benefit from occupational therapy. Children, adults, and older people can learn skills to overcome the devastating effects of life-limiting afflictions. During the initial visit, the OT will ask questions about what the patient hopes to achieve through occupational therapy. Then, with a firm understanding of the patient’s limitations and objectives, the OT will develop a therapy plan that will help them fulfill their needs regardless of physical challenges or mental limitations. The OT will evaluate progress in subsequent sessions and finetune the strategy as needed. 

With an aggressive plan and a motivated patient, an injured employee can return to work, a child with a disability can become a more productive student; and a senior adult can regain skills after a stroke. The most significant predictor of success is the duration of each session and the number of sessions per week. The treatment length depends on the impairment’s significance and the patient’s focus.

We often don’t appreciate our health until we lose it. However, injury or illness can change our lives in a heartbeat. I wish you nothing but good health throughout your life. However, if you should experience a life-changing health event, remember that a good OT can help you learn to adapt physically and mentally to find additional functionality.

You may need occupational therapy to maximize fine motor skills if you struggle to perform daily tasks. St. Luke’s Hospital has an excellent rehabilitation center led by occupational therapist Scott McDermott, MPA, OTR/L. To learn more about St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Center, call (828) 894-8419, or visit StLukesNC.org/rehab.

If you have a healthcare topic of interest or want to learn more about St. Luke’s Hospital, send me a note at Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org. Also, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, or visit our website at StLukesNC.org.