Occupational therapy: tailored treatment for the game of life.

Special to the Herald-LeaderApril 6, 2013 

Chances are someone you know has completed occupational therapy. While it is a common course of treatment for many clients, a lot of people are not aware of the benefits of occupational therapy or may confuse it with physical therapy.

As another member of the rehab team, occupational therapists help clients get back in the game of life by helping them regain function to complete their activities of daily living. While a physical therapist may work with a patient to learn to walk again, an occupational therapist may teach the patient to develop the skills to walk to the bathroom or stand at the sink to complete their self-care skills.

Clients with many conditions can benefit from occupational therapy, which can be performed on an inpatient, outpatient, mental health, or home health basis. Any age can benefit from occupational therapy experiencing various conditions and diagnoses including but not limited to: pulmonary issues, respiratory failure, brain or spinal cord injury, stroke, cardiac conditions, orthopedics, autism, spina bifida, developmental delay, and difficulties with hand writing.

Occupational therapists work with clients to increase independence through education, adaptation and retraining of skills. The focus is to get clients to the next level of care and help them to regain some of their independence.

Because occupational therapy is all about helping clients get back to the "job of life," OT is custom tailored to meet the needs of each patient. We work with each individual to help identify and set goals to help regain the abilities that are important in his or her life.

Many daily tasks that people take for granted are often relearned during occupational therapy. These skills include living safely within the home, functional mobility within the community, toileting, breathing and energy conservation techniques to complete activities of daily living, coordination and strength for fine motor skills like buttoning and handwriting, and developing the strength and endurance to complete these activities sitting or standing.

In some cases, an occupational therapist's job is to get clients back home or get them to the next stage of rehab. In others, it may be to help them regain the skills to simply do something they love. After a stroke, one client lacked the strength and coordination in his left arm. While the client regained most of his function after surviving a stroke, he desperately wanted to return to his beloved hobby of playing the piano. Occupational therapy helped him regain the strength and coordination needed to get back to the hobby he loved.

Occupational therapy is a practice rooted in science and is evidence-based. The plan designed for each individual is supported by data, experience and best practices that have been developed over time.

In many ways, an occupational therapist is a detective. We work to identify areas of need and create a work plan to get the client back to a level of independence. That plan sometimes requires creative solutions.

It may mean adapting the client's home or providing assistive equipment such as a functional hand splint to aid in feeding or a raised toilet seat to assist with independence in the bathroom. Occupational therapists in home health care may perform home evaluations to assess specific needs for the client to perform daily life skills as safely and independently as possible.

One misconception is that occupational therapy is just for adults, but it can be incredibly helpful for pediatric clients as well. Clients who have been diagnosed with sensory integration disorder, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or may have difficulties with handwriting, social interaction, self feeding, play skills, or completing self care skills may benefit from occupational therapy to help adapt to their environment and improve their ability to function in everyday life and within their community.

April is National Occupational Therapy Month. More than 100,000 licensed occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants are working with patients throughout the United States to make their lives better. If you know one, April is a great time to say "thanks."

Violet Sellers, left, is an occupational therapist at St. Joseph Hospital, and Sarah Price is an occupational therapist at St. Joseph Hospital and St. Joseph Jessamine. St. Joseph is part of KentuckyOne Health.

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