Recovering from an injury or a serious illness is a challenge at any age, but elderly patients often need a little extra help to get back to their baselines after prolonged hospital stays. That’s where occupational therapists come in. Read on to find ten things that most people don’t know about geriatric occupational therapy.

Important Daily Tasks Are Considered Occupations

The term “occupational therapy” can be misleading. In the case of geriatric occupational therapy, it doesn’t refer to work skills but daily living skills. Occupational therapists can reeducate their clients about how to perform normal daily tasks like getting dressed, using the bathroom alone, and cooking meals.

The point of occupational therapy is to restore patients to the same level of independent functioning they had experienced before their injuries or illnesses. Those who live alone can hire in-home or outpatient occupational therapists, while those that are planning to move into an assisted living facility can learn more about in-house occupational therapy over at Parc Provence.

Occupational Therapy Isn’t Physical Therapy

While physical therapists focus on restoring mobility, occupational therapists are more concerned with functional mobility skills. A physical therapist might teach his or her patient new exercises that can strengthen leg muscles, but an occupational therapist is the professional to turn to for help learning how to safely walk up and downstairs, for example. Since they’re more focused on functional ability, they often take a different approach than physical therapists, teaching patients new tips and tricks for how to perform daily tasks even when they have mobility limiting conditions.

Occupational Therapists Also Teach Family Members

Geriatric occupational therapists don’t just work with elderly patients. They also work with family members and other caregivers, teaching them how to ensure that the healthy habits they have taught elderly patients are being practiced between visits.

It’s Not All About Physical Activities

Occupational therapists can also help patients who are struggling with other areas of their lives during recovery. In the case of geriatric patients, this often involves improving social skills, memory, and cognition. Some occupational therapists work with specialized speech therapists to treat elderly patients who have suffered neurological damage that affects their speech or swallowing, as well.

Occupational Therapy Was the First to Be Covered Under Medicare

The Social Security Amendment Act of 1965 ensured that patients who have Medicare or Medicaid can access the occupational therapy services they need either in their homes or in a rehabilitation facility. Any patient whose doctor deems occupational therapy necessary can access this essential service at no cost. In 2018, the Bipartisan Budget Act repealed Medicare and Medicaid’s former budget cap for outpatient therapy, so more patients than ever can now take advantage of occupational therapy services.

All Occupational Therapists Must Be Licensed

Worried about whether a particular therapist has received sufficient training and education to perform his or her job? Don’t be. All occupational therapists practicing in the United States must be licensed by the state, and while each state’s requirements for obtaining and maintaining that license is a little different, they all require therapists to follow industry best-practices.

Occupational Therapy Reduces Hospital Readmissions

A study performed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently revealed that there is a statistically significant correlation between occupational therapy and reduced hospital readmission rates. The study specifically targeted patients with heart failure, myocardial infarction, or pneumonia, but the researchers’ results most likely apply to a much wider variety of conditions. Occupational therapists help their patients improve cognitive functioning, identify the need for increased safety at home, and increase both safety and independence, which can all help to prevent readmissions.

Occupational Therapy Can Improve Patients’ Outlooks

Elderly patients often experience depression or despair, especially during long periods of rehabilitation after hospital admissions. Occupational therapy can improve patients’ outlooks on life by making it easier for them to take care of themselves despite ongoing changes in their bodies and minds. An increased sense of independence is positively correlated with feelings of empowerment and confidence in elderly patients, and occupational therapy is the most effective way to restore independence.

Patients Can Get Help with Life Transitions

As people age, they go through many difficult transitions, such as retirement, relocation, and the loss of loved ones. Dealing with these transitions can be difficult, but occupational therapists can offer education on healthy coping skills that can make it a little easier. Since geriatric occupational therapists receive specialized training on how to help elderly patients, they are often able to offer sage advice that wouldn’t be available from a general practitioner.

Specialized Care Is Available for Dementia Patients

Around one in ten men and one in six women over the age of 55 will eventually develop dementia. Modern medicine has yet to come up with an effective technique for stopping the progression of this serious disease once it has started, but occupational therapists can make recommendations to elderly dementia patients and their family caretakers about how they can make the patient’s life easier.

In addition to performing memory tests and introducing brain exercises designed to retain cognitive function, occupational therapists can also teach patients and caregivers coping mechanisms for dealing with the practical problems that come along with dementia. A therapist might suggest listening to soothing music when his or her patient is experiencing excessive agitation, for example, or may teach the patient’s family how to make foods that have uniquely pleasing textures for those who have difficulty eating.

The Bottom Line

Geriatric occupational therapy is about far more than just teaching patients how to move around their homes safely, although that is one of the first essential steps toward a full recovery. Therapists can also offer advice about how to cope with both physical and cognitive decline, how to ensure patient safety in his or her home or an assisted living community, and how to facilitate life transitions so that they feel less overwhelming. Since Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurers now pay for occupational therapy, there’s no downside to scheduling a consultation for a loved one after any serious injury, illness, or hospital stay.

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