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Occupational Therapy: Questions and Answers

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What is the purpose of Occupational Therapy?

The purpose of Occupational Therapy (OT) is to help people increase their functional independence in daily life while preventing or minimizing disability. Often OT is combined with other treatments including Physical Therapy.

These programs are very structured, goal-oriented, and customized to meet the patient's needs. OT strives to promote emotional well-being, independence, and an enhanced quality of life. It could be said OT teaches life skills.

OT can help a person with activities of daily living (ADLs), which include dressing, bathing, food preparation, and return to work or school following injury or illness.

What is an Occupational Therapist?

Prior to becoming an occupational therapist, students must obtain a Bachelor's, Master's, or Doctoral degree in Occupational Therapy and pass a national licensing examination.

Their education includes (but is not limited to) anatomy, human growth and development, the physiological and emotional effects of illness or injury, and supervised clinical internships in different health care settings (e.g. hospital, rehab center).

Occupational Therapy Assistants (OTAs) are required to complete a two-year Associates Degree in OT. Both Occupational Therapists and PTAs work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehabilitation centers, home health agencies (homebound patients), and private practice.

What does an OT do?

Usually the attending physician prescribes a course of OT. The occupational therapist assesses the patient's general health, past medical history, and functional abilities to determine areas of weakness or lost function. The therapist may visit the patient's home or place of work to evaluate the environment.

The therapist can then address those weaknesses to help the patient be more productive in all areas of their life. OT may include therapeutic activities, exercise, simulated work tasks, and special devices designed to help the patient such as a walking aid (e.g. walker, cane).

Adaptations to the home or work environment may include handrails, ergonomically designed furniture, foot rest, stairlift, or items that make opening jars easier. The list of creative solutions is practically endless!

Who benefits from Occupational Therapy?

Patients of any age with low back problems, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal cord injury, fractures, learning difficulties, stroke, an injury sustained during a fall, and many other problems.

Updated on: 09/07/12
Mary Rodts, DNP
Adjunctive care by a knowledgeable physical therapist with an expertise in the spine can be a great asset for the patient with a spinal problem. Recovery and rehabilitation can be enhanced and hastened.
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