Ever wonder what occupational therapy (OT) is? After physical therapy gets a patient back on his feet, occupational therapy begins. This next step in recovery focuses on helping people improve their ability to perform basic activities of daily living (ADL) and be independent. An occupational therapist always begins with an evaluation to determine what difficulties a person might have that interfere with their achieving independence. OT can help seniors: Put on and remove prosthetic limbs Protect the joints and conserve energy Organize and label drawers and cabinets Perform stretching exercises and use adaptive equipment Adapt the environment to avoid glare and increase color contrast “I really enjoy what I do,” said Karen Ricciotti, occupational therapist for Wesley Homes Home Health. “As a therapist, I get to meet all sorts of great people and at the same time play a role in making their lives better and safer. Because therapy is individually-based, therapists really need to become familiar with patients and their specific needs. From that point, we can fashion a specific strategy to give the patient as much independence as possible.” Patients are evaluated on ADL, such as eating, bathing, dressing, feeding and toileting. The evaluation determines if changes are necessary to allow the patient to function alone. Modifications may be required — grip bars in the bathroom to permit continued bathing, labeled cabinets or modified utensils for cooking — without assistance. Instrumental ADL are domestic tasks like driving, cleaning, cooking, laundry, gardening and shopping. These tasks will vary as different patients have different requirements to function independently. Speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy work closely in the treatment process. A University of Southern California study on OT provided to seniors showed that OT improved health and slowed aging-related declines more effectively than engagement in basic social activities. OT health-promotion programs include: Community resources for volunteering Strategies to increase mobility and eliminate fear of falling Emotional well-being through engagement in new or previously performed leisure and social activities OT may also create effective walking programs and advocacy support programs for older adults; it will also address topics like stamina, energy conservation and successful time management. As the population of older adults increases and the desire for community-based services expands, OT is a critical link to the quality of life for seniors. OT offers solutions to participation, engagement, and well-being for older adults in the community. by Steve Whitaker Both Wesley Homes Home Health and Wesley Homes Des Moines Health Center offer occupational therapy services to help clients return to daily living activities after illness or surgery. Contact us for more information.