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Senior Safety

Occupational therapy offers practical guidance for life around the house and on the go

Published in the October 2022 Issue Published online: Oct 04, 2022 Senior Living
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BY STEVE SMEDE

WE TEND TO THINK of “therapy” as handson treatment to address a specific physical or mental challenge. However, the term can also be applied more broadly to activities of daily life and the immediate environment around us.

I discovered this for myself after returning from a recent jaunt to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for my neurological issues. I’m not long enough in the tooth just yet to consider myself a senior, but thanks to a consultation and some follow-up research back here at home, I can definitely appreciate the role of occupational therapy and the great OT resources we have right here in East Idaho.

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, occupations aren’t just working careers and the daily grind that comes with them. Rather, occupations are activities that simply “occupy” our day. That means anything from making meals to getting dressed, organizing a pill box, driving to WinCo, strolling the Riverwalk, playing the noon game at Pinecrest or even caring for family members.

Most able-bodied adults can do most of these things on auto-pilot. For others, especially seniors, some of these activities can pose some serious challenges. Specialists at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center sum it up this way: “Occupational therapists often work alongside physical therapists to increase strength and endurance for everyday and specialized work or activities. OT’s also help prevent muscle atrophy, minimize and prevent deformity, minimize pain and increase pain tolerance using adaptive equipment or strengthening/range of motion activities...”

Thankfully, local and online resources abound for occupational therapy. Consider these 6 potential benefits to help you decide if this kind of care will work for you.

1. Fall Prevention

According to the National Council on Aging, 1 in 4 Americans over the age of 65 experience a consequential fall each year. OT’s not only teach methods to prevent falls, but also more general balancing and muscle building exercises that help keep their bodies strong and alert.

2. Memory Rehabilitation

Recall how we said occupational didn’t necessarily mean vocational? In fact, it doesn’t even mean strictly physical, either. OT provides a number of mental benefits as well. For example, a care plan might address dementia, and could include training with memory-enhancing activities, placing signage around the house for elderly patients who tend to wander, or limiting clothing options in case their patient forgets what season it is.

3. Personal Optimism

It’s no secret that as people age, they gradually lose abilities to carry out tasks and activities, which can naturally lead to feelings of frustration and even depression. But just by participating in occupational therapy, patients can build confidence and determination to lead a fulfilling life.

4. Home Modifications

While most houses are set up to provide safety for the average adult, it’s a different story for elderly people, especially those who live on their own. Some of the obvious areas of concern would be stairs, slippery floors and non-adaptive bathing areas. An important part of occupational therapy is to assess the layout of the home and make recommendations as needed. Easy-access showers, strategically placed handrails, wheelchair ramps and nonslip surfaces are some obvious examples, as well as medical alert systems in the event of a fall.

5. Help With Visual Impairment

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 1 in 3 Americans will develop some form of vision loss by the age of 65. Combined with other effects of the aging process, sight issues can have a profound impact on depression and anxiety. An astute occupational therapist will be able to offer guidance that can help preserve perceptual vision and pattern recognition. Specific suggestions might include removing clutter, utilizing color-coded markers to help identify objects, adding more lighting in certain rooms or labeling pill boxes with large print for easy identification.

6. Guidance for Caregivers

Aging can also be a formidable challenge for family members who are tasked with taking care of their elderly parent or spouse. According to caregiveraction.org, nearly one third of the U.S. population provides care for an elderly person, averaging about 20 hours per week. An occupational therapist can be a huge resource by teaching effective coping strategies, keeping caregivers up to date with the latest research on specific conditions and illnesses, and providing a bridge between care given in therapeutic settings and in the home. For more tips and guidance on the specifics of occupational therapy, East Idaho has a wealth of resources. All of the major medical facilities in the region have departments and staff dedicated to this invaluable form of healthcare. Standalone service providers are also available.

Local Occupational Therapists

Bingham Memorial Hospital Occupational Therapy | 98 Poplar St. in Blackfoot | 208-785-3883 | www.binghammemorial.org

Connections Therapy Centers 1460 Elk Creek Dr. | 208-535-1286 | www.connectionstherapies.com (Also locations in Blackfoot, Rigby and Rexburg)

Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation | 3100 Channing Way | 208-529-7999 | www.eirmc.com

Generations Occupational Therapy, PLLC 3715 Woodking Dr. | 208-529-2255 | www.generations.therapyidahofalls.com

Madison Memorial Hospital Therapy Services | 450 East Main Street in Rexburg | 208-359-6500 | www.madisonmemorial.org

Mountain View Hospital Occupational Health Services | 2325 Coronado Street | 208-557-2890 | www.mountainviewhospital.org

Portneuf Medical Center Therapy Services | 777 Hospital Way in Pocatello | 208-239-1000 | www.portneuf.org

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