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Occupational Therapy – helping patients “live life to its fullest”

What does your morning routine consist of? Perhaps showering, getting dressed and eating breakfast. These tasks we perform on a daily basis can prove challenging for people who have undergone cancer treatment. If you have difficulty performing routine tasks, an occupational therapist can help you gain back independence and improve quality of life.

What is the goal of occupational therapy (OT)?

The goal of occupational therapy is to make people live as independently as possible. Occupational therapists teach by the motto “live life to its fullest.”

Is OT the same as physical therapy?

Many people think physical therapy and occupational therapy is one in the same; however, there are distinct differences between the two. Physical therapy strengthens the body. Let’s say a patient is having trouble getting in and out of his car. A physical therapist will work on strengthening the leg muscles to help the patient maneuver more easily. In the case of occupational therapy, the goal is to identify compensation skills and tools for physical deficits. For the same patient, an occupational therapist will recommend adding an extra handle to the car to make getting in and out easier.

How does OT help you with everyday living?

A primary goal of OT is energy preservation. For some patients, a shower can be exhausting. OT identifies simple ways to conserve energy, such as adding a shower bench or using a handheld showerhead while washing. Even something as simple as using a long-handled bath sponge can mean the difference between needing assistance while showering and being able to shower independently.

Any device that is used to preserve energy is known as adaptive equipment. OT often modifies daily routines at home to help preserve energy. For instance, lifting laundry baskets and walking them down the stairs can be challenging. By using a laundry bag with rollers, you are able to exert less energy while still performing this basic task. Washers and dryers can also be put on risers so there’s less need to bend down while doing laundry.

Aside from energy preservation, occupational therapists also perform scar relief to help increase range of motion, decrease pain, and increase self-image. A hand massage of a scar can help lessen scar tissue over time. Occupational therapy can also address mind/body issues such as self-esteem and body-image. For a breast cancer patient who has undergone a mastectomy, re-learning how to be comfortable in front of a mirror again can help her regain a positive self-image.

Occupational therapy touches on many other areas, including:

  • Cognition – activities that improve memory, problem-solving and organization.
  • Fall prevention – helping patients walk steadily. Making the home environment safer by, for instance, removing throw rugs from the household can help.
  • Caregiver education – patients’ caregivers can learn skills to help them take the best care of people during and after treatment.
  • Low vision – Occupational therapists can also assist patients dealing with double vision, or difficulty seeing in low light. Some solutions might include adding a nightlight to certain areas of the home, or making the transition from carpet to tile more obvious.

The exercises and skills a patient learns during occupational therapy depend on the goals they wish to achieve. With the help of an occupational therapist, you can decide what’s important for you, and work on applying the necessary modifications to achieve maximum independence.

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