How occupational therapists cater their care for all ages
The healthcare industry is a large one with an incredible number of highly skilled and compassionate individuals. From administering prenatal care to delivering children, caring for adolescents, supporting adults and working with the elderly, people at all stages of life benefit from the field.
Occupational therapists are some of the industry’s unsung heroes. They work with people at all stages of life to help them maintain their independence and live as healthily and happily — mentally, socially, and physically — as possible. This article will explore occupational therapy, the role it plays in many people’s lives, and how it can be tailored to meet the needs of various age groups.
Benefits of occupational therapy
Before diving into specific age groups, let’s talk about occupational therapy and how it helps people in general. First, it is important to note that occupational therapists (OTs) are not the same thing as physical therapists (PTs). They can perform similar functions at times, but OTs move beyond physical rehabilitation and into the mental and social demands of healing. Whether patients need help sorting through their own thoughts and communicating with loved ones, or are having to relearn how to dress or take care of themselves throughout their days, OTs can help their patients achieve goals in many different areas of their lives.
The exact role occupational therapists play in their patients’ lives depends upon the skills their educational background taught them. Professionals with an occupational therapist doctorate degree, for example, often have a better understanding of the complexities of the career than students with only a master’s degree. Opting for an accredited degree from American International College is a good way to become the best OT possible.
With all of that said, here are some of the most important ways that OTs help patients of all ages:
Visual and functional cognitive impairment
Life can be difficult even when one is feeling their best. What about when struggling to see or even just to think clearly? One of the most important things OTs do is work with patients who are struggling with visual and functional cognition issues. Patients with the latter often need help performing tasks like returning to work, problem solving or maintaining calendars.
Those with visual impairments need help learning to live life without vision. OTs might work with patients with limited sight and color-code items they use daily. The remote control might be covered with a bright green cover, for example, while daytime medication is colored bright blue. Patients with no sight often need help with home modifications and work modifications.
In both instances, OTs work to enable their patients to live as normally and happily as possible, despite their impairments.
OTs work with people who might otherwise require significant care due to an impairment or injury and help them establish daily routines that work for them. This, in turn, allows them to live independently. Not all patients can ultimately live completely on their own, of course, but OTs help them live as self-reliantly as possible. This can be invaluable to many people, especially those who are living with the aftermath of an illness or injury and are struggling with their new reality.
OTs also often work with other specialists to help equip their patients’ homes with any special equipment and safety precautions they need to have in order to live independently. These modifications can sometimes be the difference between living at home and being placed in a rehabilitation or long-term care facility.
OTs are not always the healthcare professionals that come to mind when you think about patients struggling with their memory. As discussed briefly above, however, they do not only work with patients in need of physical care. In fact, OTs are often paired with elderly patients recovering from strokes or struggling with dementia or rapid cognitive decline to help recover and maintain memory function. The success patients see varies from patient to patient, often depending upon the extent of the damage, but many people are shocked by the improvement their loved ones experience while working with OTs.
Considerations for specific age groups
The roles that OTs play in their patients’ lives are often similar in all age groups. With younger children, for example, they often work to establish independence and master their cognitive and physical motor skills. This is very similar to how they function with the elderly, who also need help regaining lost mobility and independence. As you might expect, however, different age groups bring different needs and wants in terms of accessibility and mobility. Luckily, skilled OTs can adapt their techniques to meet these expectations.
First, OTs must change their expectations of familial interaction depending on age. Young children, for example, often need help with motor, speech and physical impairments that might present difficulties as they learn to care for themselves, interact with others and regulate their emotions. OTs should expect to interact with parents, pediatricians and educators to assess their needs and develop a treatment plan. Most of the medical decisions in question will be made by people other than the patient. This is different than how they interact with adults. Even when they are struggling with cognitive issues, OTs work much more closely with adult patients about care decisions than they do with children. In the same vein, some OTs offer caregiver training to spouses and family members of adults and older patients.
Another way that OTs change their care techniques is via the goals they set. Children are constantly evolving and have the interesting ability to exceed caregiver expectations given enough time and education. Older adults and the elderly, on the other hand, tend to have less dramatic results. That does not mean that they do not ever recover more than expected, but the rate and degree of change are different. Effective OTs understand this and set age-specific goals that bear patients’ ages and histories in mind.
For those interested in becoming an OT, picking a respected program from a well-known university will have them helping people in no time!