Occupational Therapy

Treatment to encourage independence following a physical illness or injury or in people with a mental health disorder

The purpose of occupational therapy is to help a person with a physical or mental health problem to be as independent as possible. The therapy is tailored to each individual’s needs and may include help with daily tasks, such as dressing, bathing, driving, food preparation, and going to the toilet. It can also help a person who is returning to work after a long illness or severe injury and help children with a disability to develop their full potential. Usually, referral for occupational therapy comes from your own doctor or a hospital doctor. Occupational therapy is incorporated in a comprehensive treatment plan, which may also include drugs and physiotherapy.

When is it used?

Occupational therapy is used to help people cope with everyday living if simple tasks have become difficult because of a long-term disorder, such as multiple sclerosis or arthritis. It is also used to aid recovery following hand or upper arm injuries or after a major illness, such as a stroke. An occupational therapist teaches a person how to conserve energy by using specialized techniques for daily tasks. A person may be shown how to use different muscles to carry out actions or to work with a variety of specialized aids.

Children who have learning difficulties or problems with coordination can benefit from occupational therapy. This therapy also helps elderly people to remain independent and active and may make enough difference to allow a person to stay in his or her own home.

In addition, occupational therapy is useful for people with a mental health problem such as schizophrenia. Once the main symptoms of the illness are under control, occupational therapy can help a person to adjust to living in the community by gradually increasing his or her independence, providing support, and preventing a relapse.

What does it involve?

At your first consultation, the occupational therapist starts by assessing your current health problems and past medical history. The therapist may arrange to visit you at home to observe how you manage with routine activities, such as dressing and bathing. The therapist may also ask you to perform specific tasks, such as making a hot drink. If your child needs to have occupational therapy, he or she is likely to be assessed by an occupational therapist who specializes in treating children.

Your occupational therapist will plan a therapy programme based on his or her initial assessment. The programme may include therapeutic activities and practical exercises to improve your performance of daily tasks. Your therapist may suggest or provide you with specialized equipment to make tasks easier.

Practical work

If you need to build muscle strength, stamina, and concentration, your occupational therapist may recommend an activity such as a handicraft or cooking. For example, you may initially find it difficult to write following a stroke. Practical activities such as woodwork can help to improve your strength and fine muscle control, which may help you to regain near-normal dexterity and coordination. Fine muscle control of the hands and hand–eye coordination may also be improved by computer games.

Help with aids and equipment

Your occupational therapist can provide a wide range of equipment to help you to increase your independence. For example, items such as slings or splints can help provide support for a weakened part of the upper body. If you have a long-term disorder that restricts mobility, you may need to use a walking aid. Some adaptations to your home, such as raised chairs, handrails, or a stairlift, may be necessary. You may be offered specially adapted devices that can help to make everyday tasks, such as opening jars, dressing, and eating, easier.

Walking aid

If you need a walking aid, your occupational therapist will make sure that it is suitable for your needs at home as well as for outdoor use.

What can I expect?

Your occupational therapist may see you several times to check your progress and to ensure that your treatment is effective. You will be helped to regain as much of your independence as possible, although the extent to which this is achieved will depend on the severity of your disability and your mental attitude.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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