It can be hard to get the most out of life when doing every day things – like getting out of bed, or getting washed – have become a struggle because of illness or disability. Occupational therapists can help – not just so that people can cope with the basic necessities – but also to help them live their lives their way. Here’s some advice on using an occupational therapist.
What is Occupational Therapy? Occupational therapy is a science degree-based, health and social care profession, regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council. Occupational therapists work with people of all ages with a wide range of conditions; most commonly those who have difficulties due to a physical or mental health illness. They can work in a variety of settings including health organisations, social care services, housing, education, re-employment schemes, occupational health, voluntary organisations or as independent practitioners.
How an occupational therapist can help
Occupational therapists help people to identify their daily needs and aspirations, and provide advice about preventing injuries, illnesses or disabilities, or advise on how to cope with them. They will assess your situation and find practical solutions to help you lead a more fulfilling life. And they can help you to continue doing the daily activities that maintain your health and well-being and are important to you.
An occupational therapist can help with physical challenges by:
- identifying home hazards
- recommending equipment, such as mobility aids, and adaptations to an older person’s home
- helping build a person’s strength and stamina, and improve their balance
- developing an exercise programme
- advising on techniques that will protect the joints
- advising on conserving energy and managing pain.
An occupational therapist can help with memory by:
- helping an older person find strategies for managing on a day-to-day basis
- adapting a person’s home to make life easier
- advising on safety, from cooking to road awareness.
An occupational therapist can support social opportunities by:
- understanding the difficulties and working with the older person to find ways of having more social contact
- developing strategies to increase a person’s confidence when meeting new people
- recommending equipment, such as a walking aid, so the person feels confident when out and about.
Rheumatoid arthritis makes the joints in the body swollen, stiff and painful, and affects a person’s ability to undertake daily activities. An occupational therapist could assist someone with this condition by:
- providing advice on the use of specialist equipment to assist with activities such as cooking or getting around the house
- teaching someone how to conserve energy by pacing themselves when doing everyday tasks
- providing hand splints to help support and protect joints
- giving advice on support services and groups.
Occupational therapy can assist people who have had a stroke to regain some movement and live independently. Occupational therapy is an important part of almost every stroke rehabilitation programme. In fact there is evidence that patients who receive occupational therapy after a stroke are more likely to maintain or regain independence in daily life. Occupational therapists can:
- recommend equipment for the home that can help a person in completing tasks
- practise physical or mental skills through crafts and board games
- evaluate the home for safety hazards
- build a patient’s physical endurance and strength
- help compensate for vision and memory loss through the use of memory aids such as lists and diary
- provide activities to rebuild self-confidence for example being able to enjoy family meals using one hand.
Therapy usually starts with simple activities and then moves on to more complicated activities as the patient progresses.
Help finding an occupational therapist
Talk to your GP about contacting an occupational therapist locally. If you regularly see a social worker, nurse or other health care professional, they can help you to contact an occupational therapist via health or social services, depending on the problems you are experiencing. Be prepared to describe any difficulties that you have and how they are affecting your daily life, or the lives of those who care for you. You may want to know how long it will be before you get an appointment, so remember to ask if there is a waiting list. To find an occupational therapist in your area, visit: British Association of Occupational Therapists or telephone: 0800 389 4873.
Find an independent (private) occupational therapist
An independent occupational therapist works outside the national health and social care services. These practitioners will charge for their services. The College of Occupational Therapists Specialist Section – Independent Practice holds an on line directory which can be accessed here. You will need to enter your location and the service that you are looking for. Occupational therapists nearest your location will be listed first. All the occupational therapists on the directory are registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), are members of British Association of Occupational Therapists (BAOT) and the Specialist Section. All these therapists have individual professional indemnity insurance. British Association of Occupational Therapists advises that you make contact with more than one occupational therapist, if possible. This will give you information to compare.
Check an occupational therapist is registered to practise
All occupational therapists are required to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) before they can practise. The HCPC is responsible for the conduct, performance and ethical behaviour of its registrants. You can check that an occupational therapist is registered with the HCPC via their website. For further information visit British Association of Occupational Therapists