What are the Main Benefits of Occupational Therapy?
Does this unexpected life situation sound familiar? An older father calls their adult child early in the morning to tell them that their mom fell out of bed and can’t get up. She was slurring her speech when he tried to ask her if she was okay, so fortunately he immediately dialed 911, reaching out to his adult children while the ambulances were on their way.
At the hospital, they hope and pray that she will be okay. She is diagnosed with a stroke after a whirlwind emergency department visit. Their mother is eventually deemed stable and placed on the neurology unit. The following afternoon, a therapist walks through the door. Therapy? Now? Surely it’s too early to be getting out of bed, they think.
Even so, the therapist introduces themselves as an Occupational Therapist and is visiting to complete a quick assessment regarding their mom’s current abilities.
And so it begins—over the course of the next few weeks they learn about therapy in all areas that their mom will be—in the acute hospital room, in a rehabilitation hospital, at home, and in an outpatient clinic. And at the end of the road, they thank each therapist they come in contact with. Their mom has improved so much from those initial days.
It’s no mystery that following injury or illness, rehab therapies (physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy) can all greatly improve an individual’s functional abilities. But what benefits make occupational therapy in particular so essential and valuable to a person’s future following a new diagnosis?
Occupational Therapy Improves an Individual’s Independence
This is the biggest reason occupational therapy is so beneficial. People want to take care of themselves. They want to be able to complete personal tasks, such as bathing, dressing, and going to the bathroom with as little assist as possible.
OT is the only therapy whose primary focus is to improve specific self-care skills. These skills include but are certainly not limited to: eating, dressing, toileting, bathing, completing hygiene tasks, getting into the tub, getting on to the toilet, and other necessary tasks such as fixing meals.
An occupational therapist not only practices these skills at any point during a person’s recovery journey, but the therapist will provide compensatory techniques (as needed) to improve an individual’s ability to complete these self-care tasks following a change in functional abilities.
OT Improves Strength and Endurance for Functional Tasks
Although typical exercise and endurance (also called activity tolerance) activities are commonplace in therapy, what truly sets occupational therapy apart from other rehab therapies is the ability to analyze the movement or cognitive requirements of daily tasks, and creatively implement activities and exercises designed to build upon the individual’s current abilities in order to improve their daily independence.
Creativity in treatment can increase the global effectiveness in therapy by providing consistent novel activities to continually upgrade, or increase the physical or cognitive demand, of relative tasks. And more importantly, it keeps individuals interested and challenged!
Occupational Therapy Can Also Work on Functional Cognition and Visual Deficits
Occupational therapists address cognition in relation to functional necessity. What cognitive skills are required to pay bills, order items online, organize a daily calendar, or return to work? OT’s focus on practicing those skills or using activities that require organization, attention, problem solving, and reasoning to improve cognition required to complete necessary functional tasks.
Visual processing is also addressed almost exclusively by occupational therapists and can provide insight into more elusive difficulties following neurological diagnoses. OTs can also address pre-driving skills in the clinic as well as perform driving evaluations (completed by an OT certified to perform driving assessments and driving rehab).
Occupational Therapists are Great at Caregiver Training
Occupational therapists aren’t just great at caregiver training, we excel at this! We are the experts on helping both individuals and caregivers figure out how to live life after change.
Especially in preparation for leaving an acute care or rehab hospital, the OT will figuratively walk a patient and caregivers through all aspects of daily life – how much assistance is required, how to navigate the kitchen and bathroom safely, and what equipment would be beneficial to improve independence, depending on the individual’s abilities and precautions.
For more in-depth information about what OTs do in rehab settings, you can check out our companion article, Occupational Therapy’s Role in Inpatient Settings.
Occupational Therapists are Experts in Adaptive Equipment and Home Modifications
Occupational therapists regularly offer adaptive equipment suggestions to their patients. Whether the individual is learning how to dress safely following a hip replacement or back surgery, or requires options to maintain safety in the bathroom, OTs are the go-to therapists to address these issues.
The amount of adaptive products continues to grow each year and it can be difficult to determine which products are the best choices for particular situations. An OT can help you determine the most effective and the most appropriate.
Occupational therapists can also provide home evaluations (usually through home health therapy or even during an inpatient rehabilitation stay) to address potential safety hazards both inside and outside the home. They can offer advice regarding grab bar placements, ramps, kitchen equipment organization, and bathroom recommendations such as tub benches to help increase safety with bathing. Check out this helpful tub bench video by Equip Me OT.
For more information on home modifications, be sure to check out our article, 7 Easy and Affordable Home Modifications, written by home modification specialist Maria Lindbergh, OTR/L.
Occupational Therapists Offer Support
There is no occupational therapist currently working that hasn’t spent time consoling patients or caregivers on their current situation, no matter what age or population they work with. They offer families strong support under new circumstances and, with our traditionally holistic mindset, focus on an individual as a whole, rather than various functioning parts.
Occupational therapists care about YOU, and how you are coping and adapting. They want you to meet YOUR personal goals, not just meet their clinician-determined goals.
With all this being said, occupational therapists are awesome. Their skill set reaches between physical issues and cognitive issues, which OTs assess and determine potential impact on functional abilities. You won’t be disappointed if you or your loved one were cared for by an occupational therapist or occupational therapy assistant, and you just might have gained an ally and friend.
While we’ve only mentioned six benefits of occupational therapy here, you can be sure there is a huge number of other positives that occupational therapy can bring to you and your loved one.
What benefits of occupational therapy have you discovered through your own personal experiences? Please share them in the comments below.
This post was first published on September 25, 2019 and updated on January 5, 2024.