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Published on December 07, 2015

senior man with occupational therapist

Occupational Therapy: How Can it Help?

Most people hear occupational therapy and think, “I don’t need a job” because they are retired or already have a job. But occupation isn’t just about the place that you go to work every day.

Occupation is defined as “Activities of everyday life, named, organized and given value and meaning by individuals and a culture. Occupation is everything that people do to occupy themselves, including looking after themselves … enjoying life and contributing to the social and economic fabric of their communities…” (AOTA, 2002). In short, occupations are any activity that you complete that has meaning to you.

What Can Occupational Therapy Do for Me?

There are lots of reasons occupations can get disrupted in the journey of life. Illness, injury, aging or life events can all lead to disruption of occupations. For example, Suzy falls and breaks her hip.  Her occupations may now be interrupted in the following ways:

  • Taking care of herself (dressing, grooming, bathing)
  • Attending community events (functional mobility, community mobility)
  • Taking care of her home (home management, meal preparations, home safety)

Or how about Jack? He has a diagnosis of autism and doesn’t like to eat because the food “feels funny” in his mouth. His occupations may be interrupted like this:

  • Only eating one or two foods and refusing any others (eating/feeding)
  • Refusing to participate at mealtimes (eating/feeding, health management/maintenance)

Think for a minute about John. He has a mental illness and notices he has difficulty with:

  • Taking care of himself (dressing, grooming, bathing, eating, sleeping)
  • Maintaining productive employment (community mobility, financial management)
  • Maintaining his home (home management, meal preparation, shopping)

Finally, let’s talk about Ginny. She had a stroke last week and now has many disruptions to her occupations. Here are just a few:

  • Taking care of herself (dressing, grooming, bathing, feeding, toilet hygiene)
  • Taking care of her spouse who relies on her to tend the home (care of others, home management)
  • Using her arm, which may now have some degree of paralysis (dressing, bathing, home management, meal prep)
  • Reading the newspaper with visual deficits (leisure participation, community participation)
  • Remembering home safety actions, such as turning off the stove because memory is decreased (Home management, safety procedures, care of others)

Put Meaning Back Into Life

Occupational Therapy can be helpful in a variety of diagnoses including: Parkinson’s, stroke, painful hands and arms, spinal cord injury, diabetes, congestive heart failure, a variety of mental illnesses, dementia, Alzheimer’s, developmental delays, autism, lymphedema, wounds, hip factures, and joint replacements.

In each of these cases, an occupational therapist can customize an intervention plan to improve the person’s ability to complete the activities (occupations) that are meaningful to him/her. This may include adapting the occupation with techniques and devices. Or it can mean working directly on the body structures to increase their function. Finally, the occupational therapist will use outcome measures to ensure that goals are met.

In all these ways Occupational Therapy puts meaning back into daily life when it has been interrupted.

Source: American Occupational Therapy Association. (2002). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 56, 609-639.

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