What is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational Therapists (OTs) focus on function and independence. They help a person to develop skills, improve physical, cognitive, and emotional abilities, adapt their environment, and/or change the way they do activities. This helps the person better cope with the difficulties created by their own or their family member’s aging, disease, injury, or illness.
OTs enable change by helping a person to increase their functioning, adapt their skills, maximize the abilities they already have, and problem-solve barriers. OTs work with people of all ages to promote health, prevent disability and develop or maintain abilities so that a person can lead a more productive and satisfying life.
Examples of how an OT can assist a person include the following:
- Self-care such as dressing, eating, moving around, caring for your children or another adult, and housekeeping
- Productivity in your community, at school and with work activities
- Leisure such as exercise, sports, gardening, and social activities
- Develop, research and provide occupational therapy services
- Are university educated health care professionals
- Are medically trained to understand the medical and physical limitations of a disability or injury, along with the psychosocial and environmental factors that affect a person’s functioning
- Are regulated health care professionals. In Alberta they must be registered with the Alberta College of Occupational Therapists (ACOT) to legally provide OT services to a resident of Alberta. Click here to check if your OT is registered in Alberta
How does Occupational Therapy help?
OTs help a person problem solve why they are having difficulty managing activities that are important to them and that they are responsible for.
The OT may assess:
- Your physical abilities such as strength, balance, and coordination;
- Your cognitive abilities such as memory, attention, and organizational skills;
- Your emotional abilities such as coping patterns and skills;
- The materials or devices you use to participate in activities such as furniture, utensils, tools, clothes, mobility aids, leisure aids;
- Social and emotional supports available to you at home, school, work or in the community; and
- The physical setup of your house, classroom, workplace or other environment.
Depending on what the problem is, the occupational therapist can help you solve it by:
- Easing the impact that disabilities or limitations have on day-to-day functioning
- Adapting materials already in use or available to use
- Recommending and assisting with making changes to the environments where self-care, productive or leisure activities are performed
OTs use a variety of strategies, techniques and tools including:
- Education or instruction on how to do things within the abilities they have – e.g., getting around their community in a wheelchair with more confidence, joining a social group, changing jobs
- Suggesting activities that will help a person to improve or maintain the abilities they have – e.g., teach relaxation skills, teach organization skills, education on how to use physical activity to improve focus and reduce anxiety
- Help a person to improve social, self-awareness or psychological skills – e.g., anxiety management, exposure therapy, accompany a person to a new group
- Arrange for a person to learn more about, trial or purchase an aid – e.g., special bath bench to be safe and independent with bathing; vehicle modifications to resume driving; use of specific small appliances or tools to make meal preparation more manageable
- Introduce a person to a different way to do an activity they enjoy or are responsible for – e.g., playing card holder, sit-skiing, modified exercise program, modified work, how to pace housekeeping tasks
- Recommend changes to home environment to improve independence and safety and advocate for financial support to make changes – e.g., where to put grab bars and hand holds, whether a ramp or lift is more appropriate to access your house, how to position furniture, work with home contractor on home renovation, help with completing application for funding
- Advocate for better accommodation in the community through education and specific recommendations – e.g., accessing fitness facility with personal assist dog, extra time or quiet location to complete a test, modified work schedule, funding for recommended aids to use in the community or at work
- Research and recommend community supports and services that would be a good fit with the person, their activity and their environment – i.e., hiring home services, finding an exercise program, finding a social group, setting up transportation
Occupational therapists can help prevent complications such as the following:
- Unnecessary hospital stays and readmissions by assisting a person to follow the instructions provided by their doctor, accessing community resources, and obtaining the medical supplies, aids, and other supports they need to look after themselves
- The chance of a relapse or development of a chronic condition by assisting a person to follow their care plan, to problem solve barriers with doing so, and complete applications for financial or social assistance
- Premature moves into a care home by helping a person to set up their home to be as safe as possible for them and to understand how to use aids and resources to be more independent at home
- Work difficulties and injuries by assisting a person to be physically comfortable at their workstation, address learning difficulties, be better organized with work activities, and how to improve communication with others at work. The OT can also provide education to the employer and co-workers when appropriate.
- Unnecessary problems at school by assisting the student to feel more comfortable and included at school, to better manage learning and attention difficulties, and to interact with other students and teachers in a positive way. The OT can also provide support to teachers and classmates when appropriate.
- Underemployment among people with a barrier that can be assisted by occupational therapy including (but not limited to) persons with physical, cognitive or mental disability and/or are impacted by their environment such as having a means to get to work, money to buy the clothes they need to wear to work, and childcare set up.