6 Benefits of Occupational Therapy for Older Adults

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

Occupational therapy (OT) is a practice that can assist older individuals with living a more comfortable and productive life. It majors in the areas that help enhance quality of life. There are a number of rehab facilities providing occupational therapy to older adults. They take in individuals with certain medical conditions and injuries, with the drive and ambition of giving comfort and professional assistance. OT teaches life skills, which helps overcome many obstacles in the latter phases of life journeys. It's more of improving the self-reliance techniques devoid of the physical challenges.

The following are key benefits of occupational therapy:

Life transitions

Occupational therapy can help reduce the frustration involved in the transitional phases of an older adult. Difficult changes, such as the loss of a spouse or partner, relocation, or even retirement are changes that OT can assist with. Unlike the more physical side of OT, the goal of therapy in the instance of dealing with life transitions is to give the individuals problem solving methods, to help them adjust to a 'new normal'. An Australian study looked at older individuals who were moving into retirement homes and the positive impact that OT had as the individuals adjusted to their new homes. Unfortunately, there is a greater need for more thorough research on OT and life transitions, but there are definitely indicators that OT aids older individuals as they navigate life changes.

Falls prevention

According to Jane Byrne, coordinator for a nursing home in Bray, “Older adults are prone to slip and fall accidents due to a variety of health conditions, such as poor reflexes, instability or bone fragility. These accidents may cause severe injuries, rendering them incapable of performing daily tasks.” Occupational therapy shares knowledge on how to preserve energy whilst staying active, as well as techniques to aim to reduce slip and fall accidents. Because reducing falls can help prevent further healthcare costs, the need is great for this aspect of OT.

Overcoming everyday challenges

Therapists can help impact living standards for older adults, by utilising modern exercise and educational techniques to make life easier. Occupational therapy can assist a variety of activities such as dressing, bathing, feeding and toileting, which gives adults the independence they previously had. In an American study done in 2006, OT for stroke patients was studied. It determined that the profession helped maintain partial independence. The exact form of this therapy has yet to be defined, which means it hasn’t been fully implemented in healthcare settings. Knowing that it exists and helps patients' mental and physical lives improve is an important step towards improving and fine-tuning OT for each patient.

Helping to keep arthritis at bay

Arthritis is associated with joint inflammation, which can lead to immobility and inactivity. Occupational therapy takes charge of the matter; it conducts relevant examinations to determine the type of arthritis and helps individuals come up with an ideal course of action. The Arthritis Foundation recommends that, on diagnosis of arthritis, individuals should seek an occupational therapist, to assist in identifying which daily activities are difficult and which self-management skills are needed, in order to maintain control of daily living.

Providing support for memory loss

This form of therapy is most helpful in the earlier phases of memory loss, but is useful throughout all stages. As long term memory loss has no cure, the OT’s goal is to create a safe and supportive environment that helps older people maintain their activities of daily living, whilst aiming to prolong their independence. Additionally, the OT will work with family memories and concerned friends, to help maintain function as the disease progresses. The therapist also comes up with ways to help them recollect and remember useful details, including via to-do lists. The overarching goals of OT for their patients suffering from memory loss are support and education, to help them continue to live their lives to the fullest.

Helping to cope with chronic pain

Chronic pain can emanate from various parts of the body, leaving many older adults unstable or inactive. Some have adverse effects that may lower ability and control over daily activities. OT helps older people adapt and use managed and modified approaches to perform their daily activities. “Occupational therapy practitioners have a much broader view of the person [than other disciplines]. They understand the sensory, cognitive and emotional dimensions of multi-factorial pain," McGeary says. "Sometimes there’s a climate of distrust - the idea that people are malingering. But occupational therapy practitioners are much more willing to accept that attitudes and belief systems have a strong, powerful impact on how people see themselves and their ability to cope.” The benefits of OT with chronic pain are helping older adults redirect and thereby cope with their pain, whilst managing daily activities.

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