When people hear the term “occupational therapy,” many mistakenly conclude that this discipline has something to do with career building or helping people find job opportunities. Others might erroneously assume that occupational therapy is just another name for physical therapy. But if neither of these definitions hits the mark, then what exactly is occupational therapy?
According to the website of the American Occupational Therapy Association (aota.org), “Occupational therapy is the only profession that helps people across the lifespan to do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations). Occupational therapy practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness, or disability.”
Cristina Nickle, a licensed certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA/L) at The Laurels of Toledo, adds that occupational therapy (OT) is used in a wide variety of environments, including skilled nursing, hospitals and acute care, and outpatient settings. OT is also used across a broad spectrum of populations, ranging from pediatric to adult, geriatric, and mental-health clients.
“Here at The Laurels, the focus of occupational therapy is on functional activities of daily living, or ADLs, such as bathing, dressing, and toileting, as well as higher-level tasks, such as housekeeping, cooking, and doing laundry,” Nickle says. “Many people come here for a rehab stay right out of the hospital, and our job is to get them ready to return home successfully.”
Among the higher-level tasks that The Laurels’ OT staff addresses with clients are avocations that bring fulfillment to life, such as gardening. In fact, The Laurels uses a raised-bed flower garden, located in a courtyard adjacent to the rehab gym, to help clients work on the skills necessary to plant and tend flowers. They also take clients on community outings to work on the skills they’ll need to function and navigate in real-world environments.
In addition to helping with ADLs and higher-level tasks, the Laurels OT team provides wheelchair positioning for clients who need a customized wheelchair or specialized seating. Another specialized service they provide is splinting to help manage contracture, or the tightening of tendons and other tissues that can limit flexibility and dexterity, for example in people who have experienced a stroke and are unable to use one side of their body.
“Education is another major component of our job. We teach a lot of compensatory strategies and educate clients on the use of adaptive equipment so they can live and function as independently as possible,” Nickle says.
Wrapping rubber bands around jar lids or door handles to make them easier to grip and turn; buying milk by the quart or half-gallon rather than by the gallon so it’s easier to lift; and storing frequently used kitchen items on the counter, table, or a bottom shelf are just a few of the simple compensatory strategies occupational therapists can teach clients.
A sampling of adaptive equipment that can make it easier for clients to manage ADLs includes mechanical reachers, sock aids, long-handled shoehorns, long-handled ergonomic combs for reaching the hair on the back of your head, long-handled sponges for bathing hard-to-each areas, button aids for people with fine-motor limitations, and elastic shoe laces, which never come untied and essentially convert tied shoes into slip-ons.
Laurels occupational therapists can also perform home evaluations to observe clients’ living environments and recommend steps or modifications that will make them safer, such as removing throw rugs and other tripping hazards, improving lighting in hallways, installing grab bars in showers/tubs and around toilets, using a bench to transfer in and out of the tub, etc.
Though OT is distinct from physical therapy, the two disciplines often work hand in hand at The Laurels to help clients regain the strength, mobility, and function they need to get back to their normal lives safely and successfully. Nickle adds, “We also work closely with speech therapy, especially if a client needs help with self-feeding. In this situation, the speech therapist will work with the client on swallowing and the muscles involved in that process while the occupational therapist will work with the client on bringing hand to mouth and using utensils.”
Nickle points out that the American Occupational Therapy Association’s motto is “Live life to the fullest.” “That philosophy is what occupational therapy is all about,” she emphasizes. “We’re here to help our clients maximize their potential, return home safely, and enjoy the highest possible quality of life.”
The Laurels of Toledo accepts Medicare, Medicaid, and all private
commercial insurances. A physician’s order is required to obtain
outpatient services. For more information, call 419-536-7600 or visit www.laurelsoftoledo.com. ❦