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occupational therapy

Alternative Names 

Occupational therapy (OT) helps people learn to take care of themselves when a health problem limits normal activity. Bathing, dressing, eating, fixing meals, doing housework, and managing personal business are taken for granted by most people. These tasks are called activities of daily living (ADLs). OT teaches a person how to do these tasks alone or with the help of special devices or other people.

What is the information for this topic? 
Who provides occupational therapy?

OT services are provided by an occupational therapist. An occupational therapist may specialise in certain kinds of problems. It is important to choose one carefully.

What kinds of problems does occupational therapy treat?

Occupational therapy treats any physical or mental problem that interferes with a person's ability to perform activities of daily living. Therapy can be provided for anyone from young children to older adults. Some typical injuries or illnesses are: A person can have trouble with many ADLs. Occupational therapy can address any task that a person needs to do to take care of himself or herself. Tasks can involve personal care, the household, or personal business.

Personal care tasks include bathing, washing hair, applying make-up, shaving, getting dressed, eating, and using the toilet.

Household ADLs include fixing meals, making a shopping list, washing dishes, doing laundry, making a bed, and cleaning.

Personal business tasks include going to the bank, keeping track of money and bills, shopping, and making decisions.

What are the goals of occupational therapy?

The goal is to enable the person to do activities alone, with limited help, or with the use of devices. A person who is unable to do ADLs is dependent and must rely on others to help. With OT, the person can become more independent. He or she may reach a point where no help is needed. For many people, this makes the difference between being able to live alone or having to live with others.

What are the treatments given in occupational therapy?

There are many ways to provide occupational therapy. Depending on the cause of the problem, a treatment plan is designed for each person. The first step is a thorough evaluation by the therapist.

Part of designing a treatment plan is deciding the best place to have the therapy. Some treatments, such as exercises, can easily be given in any setting. Others, such as learning to follow directions to a store and use money, are best done in the community.

Exercise is an important part of OT. Strength and joint movement often need to be improved before working on specific activities. This is especially important in the upper body. Splints and slings may be used to hold an arm, hand, or finger in a normal position or to stretch a tight joint.

Training in adaptive ways to do ADLs is a large part of OT. These ways can help conserve energy and overcome physical problems. For example, a person with stiff fingers who cannot tie a shoe may adapt by wearing slip-on style shoes. Or elastic shoelaces that do not need to be untied can be used. Cupboards can be rearranged so that frequently used items are kept within easy reach. This helps people who become easily fatigued. There are many special devices designed to help with daily activities.

Therapy can help the people become more active and willing to take care of themselves. A person who has an injury or illness that makes it difficult to do activities can feel very helpless and become depressed. When this happens, the person can quit trying to recover. OT helps people experience success and restore dignity and independence.

Does insurance cover occupational therapy?

Most insurance policies will cover occupational therapy. The insurance company may have limits on where it will be covered. There are often limitations on how much OT will be covered. A doctor's order is usually needed to get insurance coverage.

What is a good way to locate the best occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy treats many different problems. It's important to have an occupational therapist who is experienced in the right area. For example, someone who specialises in hand injuries might not be the best choice for a person with a spinal cord injury. A doctor or rehabilitation nurse can often provide recommendations. It is acceptable to call an occupational therapist or OT department to ask about experience and training.

Author: Karen Preston, PHN, MS, CRRN
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 16/10/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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