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Occupational Therapy for Older Adults

Occupational therapy is a type of rehabilitation therapy that helps older adults do daily tasks and other activities safely and more easily. This can include things such as eating, bathing, and making meals. These and other tasks can become harder or painful for an older adult to do on their own due to an injury or health condition, disability, or in some cases because of normal aging. Occupational therapy can help you learn to do these activities in a way that’s easier for you, to help you regain and maintain some independence.

Occupational therapy is done by specially trained professionals called occupational therapists (OTs). They have a advanced degree and are licensed to practice. OTs sometimes work with occupational therapy assistants and aides (OTAs), who can also help with your treatment.

What kinds of activities do OTs help with?

OTs can help older adults with many types of tasks. These include daily self-care tasks (activities of daily living) such as:

  • Eating

  • Bathing and getting dressed

  • Using a toilet

  • Moving from one place to another, such as from a bed or chair to a toilet, tub, or shower (called transferring)

An OT can also help with more complex daily activities (instrumental activities of daily living). These tasks require more thinking (cognitive) or social skills, and include:

  • Food shopping and making meals

  • Using a phone or computer

  • Cleaning and doing laundry

  • Managing daily medicines

  • Managing finances

  • Driving

What conditions can be helped by occupational therapy?

Many conditions can affect a person’s ability to do the things they enjoy doing or need to do. Occupational therapy can help people with conditions such as:

  • Stroke

  • Dementia

  • Brain injury

  • Alzheimer disease

  • Arthritis

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Diabetes

  • Chronic pain

  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

  • Vision problems

What happens during an occupational therapy session?

An OT will first do an assessment to find your current level of function. As part of this, the OT will review your health history. They will watch you do certain tasks to see how well you are functioning. They will also talk with you about the tasks that are hard for you to do. They may also talk with other people involved in your care, such as a family member, caregiver, or other healthcare providers.

The OT will then work with you to create a treatment plan with short-term and long-term goals. They can show you helpful exercises, assess your home environment for safety, and teach you new ways of doing things. They can also help you to get certain tools or products (called assistive devices) as needed, that can help you to do things more easily. And they can show you how to use these devices safely and correctly.

For instance, based on your needs, an OT may do things such as:

  • Show you an easier way to do tasks such as getting dressed

  • Show you how to safely get in and out of the shower

  • Teach you exercises to help improve your strength, flexibility, or hand-eye coordination

  • Do an assessment to make sure your home is safe and well-lit

  • Help to prevent falls by securing or removing throw rugs and getting rid of clutter

  • Help you to get certain devices and teach you how to use them, such as a raised toilet seat, bath chair, cane, reacher, or pill organizer

How do you find an OT?

Your healthcare provider will write a referral for occupational therapy services. Ask your provider to recommend an OT in your area.

Where are occupational therapy sessions held?

OTs and OTAs work with people in many different settings, such as assisted living centers, nursing homes, hospitals, outpatient clinics, rehab centers, or in a person’s home.

How is occupational therapy paid for?

Occupational therapy sessions may be paid in part by Medicare if you are older than 65, or by Medicaid or private health insurance. However, Medicaid coverage varies by state. Check with your state Medicaid agency for more information. And always check with your insurance company to see what your specific plan covers.

To learn more

For more information on how occupational therapy can help you, visit the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Steven Buslovich MD
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2022
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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