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April 10, 2007 > Helping Patients Regain Their Independence

Helping Patients Regain Their Independence

Occupational Therapy Professionals Recognized this Month

When we think of our jobs or occupations, we often define ourselves in narrow terms relating only to our work lives. But think about all of the other activities we perform and roles we play in a given day that are just as important in making up who we are. What would happen if we lost the ability to do the daily activities things we often take for granted, such as tying our shoes, using the computer, cooking a meal for our family or driving a car?
April is Occupational Therapy Month, which recognizes a specialized segment of health care professionals called occupational therapists (OTs) that work with individuals to help them regain the ability to perform vital everyday activities.
There are several activities that we perform without thinking about them that could potentially become difficult or impossible after certain injuries or illnesses. OTs, who often work in a variety of settings, including the hospital or outpatient setting, help people regain - or sometimes even relearn - abilities they have lost.
The occupation of being you
"Based on the fact that the profession's title - occupational therapist - contains the word occupation, people often assume that we are going to help get them a job, but we actually help people regain functional independence to help them get back to their own individual occupations in life, such as mother, sister, wife, employee, boss, athlete, artist and homemaker," according to Washington Hospital's Occupational Therapy Clinical Coordinator Christy Casey.
The occupational therapist's focus can be as broad as the activities people perform in a day, according to Casey. Some of the abilities OTs help patients regain include:
* Self-care, such as dressing, bathing, toileting, hygiene/grooming and feeding
* Functional mobility, such as safely getting in and out of the shower, on and off the toilet, or in and out of bed
* Homemaking activities, such as cooking, doing dishes and cleaning
* Information processing, such as following directions, the ability to balance a check book, safety awareness, etc.
* Vision, including the ability to scan and see by learning compensation techniques or strategies to deal with vision loss
* Strength, range of motion and coordination of the upper body
So what types of patients do occupational therapists see in a given day? People that have come to the hospital after suffering a shoulder fracture, a stroke, pneumonia, a hip fracture, as well as patients that have had heart bypass surgery, back surgery or total hip or knee replacements - just to name a few - will most likely cross paths with an occupational therapist while they are in the hospital, according to Casey.
"We see anyone who has had an injury or an illness that affects their ability to perform daily activities independently," she says.
Casey found her career path when her uncle suffered a stroke while she was still in high school. She discovered occupational therapy purely by accident when she saw it listed in a career handbook while she was searching for professions that dealt with stroke rehabilitation.
"Immediately I knew this was the career for me," Casey says. "Occupational therapy looks at the day to day abilities that an individual needs to accomplish and helps that individual to be able to reach their goals."
She says she finds her reward in the act of helping people get back to living their lives as independently as possible.
One of the profession's challenges, she says, is that it takes a certain amount of creativity to adapt tasks to meet an individual's needs. If needed, assistive devices or equipment can enable an individual to remain independent and accomplish their daily tasks or roles after a traumatic illness or injury.
Occupational therapy has a unique place within the hospital setting, and Casey says she expects the profession to continue to grow as the aging population increases rapidly in years to come.
Washington Hospital currently employs eight occupational therapists, and the Occupational Therapy Department is seeking an additional qualified therapist. Just this year, the profession began requiring a master's degree to practice as an OT. Casey says the educational requirements help occupational therapy professionals stay abreast of current information and remain competitive in the field, which requires regular continuing education.
To learn more about the occupational therapy profession, visit The American Occupational Therapy Association's Web site,
To find out more about services and programs available at Washington Hospital, visit and click on "Services & Programs" or tune in to Comcast Channel 78 - InHealth, A Washington Hospital Channel.

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