Occupational Therapy for Seniors

How an Occupational Therapist Can Help Seniors

Often clients and families ask what my role is and how I can assist them or their loved one. In home care, it’s pretty simple – I can help you stay in your home safely, help you do what you need/want to do and connect you to support and funding if needed.

What is an Occupational Therapist’s Focus?

One of the main goals for an occupational therapist that works with seniors is to help improve the client’s home safety and maintain their goal of staying in their home. Many want to live out their lives in the comfort of their own homes. We consider many factors, from the person (the client’s mental, cognitive and physical function/medical status), the environment (including physical environment and the social/support network) and their ‘occupations’ (the activities they want/need to perform to fulfill their life roles such as self-care or leisure tasks).

Occupational therapists also assess the client’s mobility including their balance, gait, transfers, stair negotiation abilities along with their mental and cognitive capacities. This assessment will help determine strategies to implement to assist with home safety. Prevention of falls is a large focus on recommendations made in the home.

Mobility and Positioning

Sometimes our role involves recommending and prescribing mobility, transfer and positioning equipment. Occupational therapists who are registered with the Assistive Device Program (ADP) with the Ministry of Health can assist in the prescription and funding paperwork for mobility devices such as walkers, wheelchairs and scooters. Occupational therapists are also able to train support workers and caregivers on safe transfers, including implementing training on safe use of mechanical lifts in the home. Skin protection is a large consideration for those with limited function, and assessing for appropriate mattress surfaces can be key in preventing pressure sores and wounds.

Home Modifications

We can assist in home modification guidance and education, as well as linking to available community and provincial funding programs. Home modifications may include ramps, stair glides, porch lifts, elevators, as well as accessible barrier-free designs in the home from wheel-in shower stalls to accessible kitchens. We can assist clients and their families through the planning and implementation of both small and large home modification processes, educating parties involved including the contractors and vendors, all while considering the current and future functional needs of the client.

Adaptations in the home recommended by an occupational therapist may be as simple as a bath chair and grab bars in the shower, toileting aids, and transfer equipment for the bed. But as simple as they may be, such adaptations can prevent falls, prevent hospitalization, increase ease and/or independence of performing activities, and even help a senior to live safely in their own home.

Cognitive and Mental Health Focus

Assessing cognitive abilities is as much of a focus as assessing physical abilities. We often liaise with the family physician and other parties involved, recommending both remedial and compensatory strategies to assist in rehab and/or maintenance efforts around cognitive functions, while considering strategies around safety in

the home and community. Mental health intervention, for those experiencing conditions such as anxiety or depression for instance, can assist clients in returning to productive roles. Mental health intervention may include identifying coping strategies, working on goal setting and activity planning, and participating in cognitive behavioural therapy intervention efforts with the therapist.

Community Linking

Linking clients to community support is important, but often the caregiver/family members benefit from linking to their own support programs and services as well. Communities are all unique, and an occupational therapist working in your community will be able to link clients and their families to appropriate local services, whether it is for general support, respite services, in-home services, day programs, etc.

As you can see, the role of an occupational therapist for seniors is complex, as each client has unique needs. If you have any questions, we encourage you to connect with us or provide a comment below.

About the Author

Lori MacFadyen, OT Reg.(Ont.), M.Sc.(OT), B.Sc.(Hons)
Lori is an Occupational Therapist (OT) with almost 7 years of experience in the field from insurance-sector working with CCAC-referred clients in their homes, assisting private clients in mobility device prescription and funding, as well as providing OT services to several long-term care facilities.

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