When most people hear the word “therapy” they automatically think of physical therapy. However, there is another very important, but often misunderstood, type of therapy, namely occupational therapy (OT).

The American Occupational Therapy Association defines occupational therapy as: the therapeutic use of occupations, including everyday life activities with individuals, groups, populations, or organizations to support participation, performance, and function in roles and situations in home, school, workplace, community, and other settings.

Essentially, OT is a type of therapy that focuses on rehabilitation through the performance of activities of daily living. Occupational therapists work in a variety of settings, ranging from hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, school systems and home care agencies.

Particular areas of focus for occupational therapists are:

  • Self-care: eating, grooming, dressing and toileting
  • Leisure: free time in which one chooses to occupy their time doing something they enjoy
  • Work: activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result

It is the job of an OT to determine a person’s deficits or areas requiring assistance. The OT then helps the person perform the activity, or adapt the task or environment. The ultimate goal is to increase function and independence related to the physical disability or limitation an individual faces.

Occupational therapists help people of all ages, from newborns to older adults. They have the knowledge and training necessary to work with people who suffer from a range of physical, cognitive and emotional illnesses or disabilities that impede their ability to do important and meaningful tasks such as eating, dressing, school activities and work. An OT may make changes in any of the things that limit an individual’s ability to perform such tasks, including the environment, the task, or the person’s skills required to carry out the task.

Occupational therapists and physical therapists (PT) work very closely together in many settings. For example, if an individual has had an illness or surgical intervention, a PT might be responsible for working on a patient’s lower half of the body while the OT would be responsible for working on the upper half. Another scenario could involve a PT assessing a patient’s standing balance while the OT evaluates their ability to brush their teeth or sponge bathe while standing.

In the end, occupational therapy is equally as important as physical therapy for people of all ages. It is an absolute essential to helping people regain their independence and ability to do what they love and enjoy in life.

This blog is courtesy of Shelby Silas, Director of Therapy, Chelsea Jewish Visiting Nurse Agency in Chelsea, MA.

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