The isolation induced by the pandemic over the past few months has impacted people differently. Many of us have felt a sense of frustration as daily routines have been modified, and what we considered “normal living” has become more elusive. Some have found new challenges in staying physically active, and still others with pre-existing conditions have found it difficult to avoid becoming sedentary.
Fortunately, Occupational Therapists (OTs) are well-equipped to confront these challenges. They can play a vital role in improving self-management skills and promoting healthier living during these unpredictable and unfamiliar times.
Online Occupational Therapy is probably one of the “best-kept secrets” of the healthcare industry now. That’s because the value of these skilled professionals who are highly trained to assist their clients with life and functioning skills has significantly increased for so many who are trapped in isolation inside their homes, especially including those OTs who perform remote therapy.
Self-Management skills enable a person who is challenged by daily living to regain and take charge of his/her life by managing one’s particular condition instead of being managed by that condition. According to the National Institutes of Health (2010), self-management is recognized as a practical approach to managing chronic health conditions by “empowering patients to understand their conditions and take responsibility for their health.”
An occupational therapist’s work enables people of all ages to maximize their lives by imparting them with the self-management skills to overcome ways that their condition has compromised their quality of life. This may involve lifestyle or environmental changes that are holding them back, or teaching them how to cope with injury, illness, or disability, and can be delivered either onsite or through remote therapy.
Occupational Therapists are trained to adopt a holistic approach when evaluating their clients. When devising practical and helpful interventions, the occupational therapist must account for many things, including the client’s psychological, physical, emotional, and social makeup.
In this way, occupational therapists help to facilitate clients’ realizing their goals and aspirations, assuring that they will function at the highest level possible, regain or maintain their independence, and participate in the everyday activities of their lives. In a word, this boils down to supporting and enhancing self-management.
Occupational Therapy’s Role with Health Promotion
Another critical role of an occupational therapist is to understand the dynamics of the client’s life and how these impact the client’s health and wellness. For example, the occupational therapist can devise health-promoting play activities for children to enhance physical well-being and social skills.
Alternatively, they can develop injury prevention programs for adult workers; and educate seniors on home and activity modifications to prevent falls and manage medications. Because enhancing health and wellness generally directly impacts the client’s functioning, this enhancement fits squarely within the occupational therapist’s agenda.
Related to this is the importance of maintaining routines and habits that promote healthy behaviors. In this regard, the occupational therapist will carefully match the client’s skills to the demands of the activity, using environmental supports and minimizing barriers, and imagining solutions to challenges that may jeopardize healthy habits and routines.
For example, when an occupational therapist is working with a client who is struggling with diabetes, the therapist might teach strategies and techniques to monitor skin integrity, avoid skin breakdown, help establish daily meal intake for proper nutrition, and address any barriers to shopping for healthy food.
Ways OTs Promote Health and Well-Being
Help people either in cancer treatment or in recovery to mitigate the impact of the treatment on daily functioning and promote as normal of a lifestyle as possible.
Go into the client’s home to assess health risks due to furniture placement or other impediments, such as falling, the effect of vision or cognitive issues on safety in everyday tasks, and how the home can accommodate disabilities.
Evaluate children’s sensory processing, adaptive behavior deficits, or gross and fine motor skills, that may be caused by or result in developmental delays.
Impart strategies and tactics to help integrate healthy habits and routines into daily activities for clients of all ages and abilities to maximize their quality of life.
Helpful Activities During Isolation
Brainstorm solutions to barriers (e.g., mental health issues, lack of community mobility) limiting clients from engaging in healthy activities.
Provide self-management skills training to assist clients with socialization, caregiving, parenting, time management, stress management, etc. through remote therapy.
Clarify and explain the functional impact and how to manage new medical issues that have arisen during the time of isolation.
Strategize to accomplish tasks accounting for physical limitations, particularly during isolation when in-person help is not readily available.
Help the client use a computer, now such an essential tool for communication and accessing necessary resources.
Assist the client to navigate the internet to find online resources that make life easier.