Happy Occupational Therapy Month!

By Margaret Schmidt

April is Occupational Therapy Month, and RehabCare extends a sincere thank you to our occupational therapists for their hard work and commitment to restoring function for our patients.

While folks in our industry know what is meant by occupational therapy, we realize not everyone understands this essential therapy discipline. Occupational therapists help patients with mental and physical conditions develop or regain necessary skills to complete activities of daily life. From the moment a patient puts his or her feet on the floor in the morning, the occupational therapist is there to facilitate the everyday tasks of living that follow – be it bill paying, cooking, washing dishes, taking medication on a schedule or learning to use a new assistive device.

“Occupational therapists have the opportunity to work with patients at the point when they can only do a little bit for themselves,” said Lenore Phipps-Stevens, an occupational therapist at Kindred Transitional Care and Rehabilitation – Sellersburg in Indiana. From there, occupational therapists find innovative solutions to facilitate function and motivate patients to carry out regular tasks of living.

Achieving function in new or unconventional ways often requires a healthy dose of creativity. “Thinking outside of the box is typical for most occupational therapists,” said Marisa Velez-Spina, program director for Kindred Transitional Care and Rehabilitation – Sunnybrook in Raleigh, NC. Occupational therapists may best be described as problem solvers. The occupational therapist must assess the patient’s abilities and strive to provide a functional relationship between the person and their environment. For example, an occupational therapist can modify a patient’s wardrobe with helpful dressing aids such as button hooks and long-handled shoe horns for individuals with limited coordination. Therapists also use games, including the Nintendo Wii, to teach patients fine motor skills and simulate other activities. Inspiring patients by making therapy fun is often part of the puzzle.

Occupational therapists deploy proven tactics and invent new solutions as they work closely alongside physical therapists and speech language pathologists to maximize patients’ gains. “Physical therapy can enable you to walk in a straight line to the bathroom, and once you get to the bathroom, an occupational therapist can work on balancing center of gravity and more for toileting and showering,” said Phipps-Stevens.

Occupational therapists wear many hats and enjoy the varied nature of their work. “We are environment adaptors, resident advocates, consultants, clinicians and paradigm shifters,” said Velez-Spina. Occupational therapists are an integral part of the therapy mix. Please remember to thank your occupational therapist this month!