Aging in Place? 5 Reasons You Should Consider Occupational Therapy
More seniors are choosing to stay in their homes during their golden years, as it can be more comfortable, less isolating, and cost effective compared to alternatives. However, aging in place comes with its own challenges around mobility and safety. This is where an occupational therapy program can be a game-changer for you or your loved one.
The occupational therapist role in elder care is to increase security and independence through hands-on, practical education and personalized strategies. Through getting to know your needs, routines, and home, an occupational therapist helps to make beneficial modifications and reduce risk of harm.
What Is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy is not the same as physical therapy. While the latter focuses exclusively on healing an injury, the former uses a range of approaches to improve your ability to lead a healthy, full life.
There are several types of occupational therapy, and geriatric occupational therapy specifically addresses a spectrum of considerations like memory loss, adaptations for motor skills, safe environment, transportation to beloved activities, and adaptive technologies, in addition to injury and fall prevention. The geriatric occupational therapist is your expert partner for designing home and habits that support a safe and independent life, helping you adapt to the challenges inherent in the aging process.
If you are aging in place, or you care for someone who is, consider these five important benefits of occupational therapy.
1. Elderly Home Modifications
As we age, some loss of mobility, sight, and hearing are common, and as a result, we are more susceptible to household accidents. One of the roles of an occupational therapist is to assess risk and offer solutions through home modifications. These can be as simple as rearranging furniture, adding railings and non-slip mats in the bathroom, teaching how to use a doorbell camera, organizing electronics cords off the floor, or adding motion-sensing lights to stairways. These modifications are about visualizing potential safety hazards and eliminating them before they cause harm.
The occupational therapist also has a trained eye for increasing their patient’s ease and comfort. They may suggest lever-style door handles, contrast-color outlets on the walls, or magnifiers in convenient places to help you read small print.
2. Custom Exercise Routine and Coaching
Regular exercise is crucial to maintaining physical strength and mobility—all seniors can benefit from regular low impact exercise—but those aging in place can also reap the benefits of an occupational therapist in fall prevention.
Geriatric occupational therapy includes training in balance and muscle tone to help prevent falls, a prevalent concern for seniors and their loved ones. Along with teaching and practicing these exercises, an occupational therapist provides accountability and encouragement, lessening the senior’s risk of hospitalization due to a fall or other physical injury. This benefit alone is a major reason to consider starting occupational therapy.
3. Memory Care and Improvement Strategies
Among the mental benefits of occupational therapy are cognition evaluation and memory training. Occupational therapy for memory loss can improve outcomes even for individuals with dementia, as well as those with mildly declining memory.
Upon assessing the patient, the occupational therapist will target his or her areas of strength and weakness and design a custom care plan. This plan might include signage in the home, teaching simple and repetitive routines, and puzzles or games to stimulate cognitive ability. The occupational therapist will determine both a long term strategy to keep memory sharp and short term solutions for ensuring safety during memory lapse.
In addition, the plan may include strategies for caregivers or family members for avoiding confusion or frustration in their loved one’s daily activities and interactions.
4. Optimized Everyday Tasks
As we age, it can become disheartening to find that simple, everyday tasks are harder than they used to be. Occupational therapists work with seniors to rethink the way they eat, bathe, dress, use the bathroom, and even move around their home. (The Department of Veterans Affairs calls these ADLs, or Activities of Daily Living.) They also provide suitable tools for sight and hearing loss and other physical impediments. For those who can no longer drive, the occupational therapist finds and coordinates alternate means of transportation and affirms that he or she is not stuck at home, away from their friends and favorite places.
In addition to the immediate benefits of relearning and redesigning these routines, occupational therapists provide encouragement and empowerment to their patients, teaching them that they can continue to lead full lives, thereby addressing the sense of loss that can come from new aging-related roadblocks. Occupational therapists teach their patients how to get around these roadblocks.
5. Support and Expert Advice
Within the role of occupational therapist lies the potential for a trusted advisor. These professionals not only understand the challenges of aging, but have empathy for all of those affected by an individual’s physical and mental changes. Occupational therapists find themselves not only instructing and encouraging their patients, but their patients’ loved ones.
As nonjudgmental, solution-oriented helpers, they are used to seeing and engaging with people in vulnerable states. They are trained to stay calm in difficult situations, to respond with compassion, and to see the hope in every situation. They believe in the power of occupational therapy to improve lives because they see the proof every day. Therefore, they can handle the concerns of their patients and their families and respond not only with empathy, but with an effective, actionable plan.
Why Is Occupational Therapy Important?
Geriatric occupational therapy is designed to help elderly individuals age in place more comfortably and safely, with minimal loss to their everyday routines. An occupational therapist can help make their home safer, their daily life easier, and their mind and body healthier. The result is that the senior is happier and their loved ones enjoy more peace.
To keep the senior happy at home, the VA’s pension with Aid and Attendance can provide assistance seniors need to thrive. Whether they need reminders about when and how to complete their exercises, are more comfortable exercising with someone nearby in case of a fall, or could use help preparing nourishing meals after exercise, the right home care can open new doors for aging adults. If you’d like to explore the benefits of occupational therapy for yourself or someone you love, we can help you access the care you need.
Our VetAssist mission is to make home care easily and quickly accessible for those who qualify through the VA Pension with Aid and Attendance benefit. Veterans Home Care can help you determine whether you or your loved one will be eligible to receive the benefit, which can cover some or all of the cost of home care, and we make it easy to apply. Chat with us via our website, or call us at (888) 314-6075.
By Sylvia Trein, staff writer