Occupational therapy helps people do their normal daily activities, including caring for themselves, working, and participating in leisure activities. Occupational therapists work closely with physical therapists.
Many types of problems can make doing even simple activities difficult. Joints may be stiff and have a limited range of motion. Muscles may be weak, and endurance may be short. Balance, dexterity, or coordination may be lacking. Shaking (tremors) may make carrying objects difficult. There may be problems with thinking (cognitive problems). These difficulties may make a person feel incompetent, frustrated, and unable to cope with relearning old skills or learning new ways to do old activities. Occupational therapists try to identify such problems. They watch the person do a specific activity. They may also ask family members or other caregivers about the disability.
Occupational therapists also try to identify other problems that can make an activity difficult. For example, the attitudes of family members/care givers can affect the person’s ability to do an activity. Or the physical environment can make doing an activity difficult. For example, lighting may be inadequate, or electrical cords across walkways can make walking hazardous.
The occupational therapist and person choose the techniques and activities that seem appropriate and set goals for each. For example, if a person has problems using eating utensils, therapy may consist of repeating an activity that requires similar movements, such as inserting pegs on a peg board. A memory game may be used to improve recognition and recall. A person with a paralyzed arm is taught adaptive techniques, such as how to dress, tie shoes, and fasten buttons with one arm. Adaptive techniques help a person use strengths to compensate for disabilities. A person who has trouble concentrating and planning may be taught to limit activities and put them into routines.
Occupational therapists also suggest tips for simplifying activities. For example, a person who has trouble with dressing may be advised to wear pullovers, which are easier to put on than cardigans. Therapists may also suggest devices that can help a person function more independently (assistive devices).
Occupational therapy focuses on the person’s living environment and equipment, devices, and physical abilities needed to do specific activities, especially those done with the arms and hands.