Occupational Therapy for the Elderly

Occupational therapy for seniors is a mode of treatment that is designed to help individuals live a more productive and independent life. This form of therapy focuses primarily on improving day to day life skills that ultimately allow one to enjoy a better quality of living. Occupational therapy is somewhat unique in the fact that it utilizes a ‘whole person’ or holistic approach when considering the needs of seniors undergoing treatment. An occupational therapist looks beyond the surface symptoms and attempts to discover any underlying issues that may be having a negative impact on the senior’s life.

These health care providers then help the patient resolve core issues with appropriate wellness promotion and rehabilitation therapies. In many cases patients find their way to an occupational therapist after seeing a physical therapist to regain strength and mobility post-surgery, an accident or a physical or cognitive dysfunction surfaces. For example a senior who has fallen may see a physical therapist to gain strength and begin walking again. Later on, the individual sees an occupational therapist to practice walking, posture, and/or to explore options such as mobility aids or ways to change the home to prevent future falls.

What Do Occupational Therapists Do?

About a third of senior patients undergoing occupational therapy suffer from some form of dementia, have fallen ill or have suffered from an injury. Because occupational therapists treat individuals as a whole, they are also qualified to assist those with an array of issues including cognitive disorders, developmental disabilities, motor control issues, memory loss as well as behavioral and emotional problems. Regardless of the reason treatment is sought, occupational therapists don’t use manual therapy techniques like physical therapists do. Rather, they help seniors gain or regain their independence in instances where patients are struggling to perform the basic activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, cooking, cleaning, walking, etc. They also help seniors learn how to adjust to any challenges they face due to temporary or permanent disabilities within facilities and within the home.

Occupational therapists also evaluate long-term care needs and seek to identify any factors concerning the home or individual that may inhibit their normal routine. Once these issues are brought to the surface, occupational therapists can make recommendations such chiropractic adjustments, special care routines, prostheses, appropriate social activities. Furthermore, these health care providers can even advise seniors and their families about changes that can be made within the residence to provide the patient with as much independence as possible amid a safe environment. With access to such personalized health care, many seniors can avoid relying on family or friends or having to transition to a senior care facility.

The Benefits of Occupational Therapy for Seniors

The benefits seniors can reap from sessions with an occupational therapist are as vast as they are varied. Here are some of the most compelling benefits of occupational therapy.

  1. Facing Challenges – Occupational therapy benefits seniors by helping them face and cope with any obstacles they may encounter on a routine basis while trying to perform daily tasks. Whether it’s walking or brushing one’s teeth, these professionals help seniors compensate for any challenges so they can live a normal life.
  2. Promote Physical Health – By helping them redesign their lifestyle, seniors can stay active to the best of their ability and level of comfort, which promotes longevity through an overall healthier lifestyle. As seniors overcome their challenges with occupational therapy, they regain a sense of self-reliance and normalcy that further boosts health.
  3. Greater Emotional Wellness – Many seniors can fall into depressive states and begin losing hope when they are limited physically or struggle to perform daily tasks successfully. An occupational therapist often has a positive emotional influence on patients, as they are trained to help patients see beyond temporary and permanent dysfunctions and instead to focus on what they CAN do.
  4. Fall Prevention – As one of the leading causes of senior injuries, slips and falls are incidents that preventive steps can help the elderly avoid, and an occupational therapist is the ideal professional to consult with. They can help problem solve and uncover ways to help individuals avoid falls while staying active.
  5. Home Safety Modifications – Occupational therapists are trained to help patients and their families explore ways to make home environmental modifications for safety and functional purposes. For example, a senior with paralysis or one who is wheelchair bound will need special  home modifications that allow them to perform daily activities of living with greater ease. Ramping up safety and surpassing mobility barriers with non-skid flooring, bathroom handrails, stair chair lifts, medical alert devices, hearing-disabled technology, etc. helps improve senior’s quality of life and independence.
  6. Reduced Rate of Memory Loss – Seniors dealing with the early stages of a memory related condition can benefit from the observational skills of an occupational therapist. These individuals are experienced in assessing patient’s cognitive abilities and then utilize behavioral modifications to address personality changes. Dealing with a professional can actually slow the rate of mental decline and memory loss. In the later stages they can provide sensory stimulation and help seniors focus on simplifying daily activities.

Considering Occupational Therapy for an Aging Loved One or Yourself?

Occupational therapists can play a vital role in helping families cope with and better understand the needs of their elderly loved one through assessment and workable solutions. They can help alleviate pressure off of everyday caregivers who don’t have those practical skills themselves. With an occupational therapist on their side, families and caregivers can create a plan that allows everyone to achieve their individual goals concerning the patient’s health, safety and happiness. You can typically find occupational therapists through agencies, medical clinics and through many of the local facilities near you listed in our senior living directory.