Senior Health

10/24/2022 | By Annie Tobey

Is occupational therapy for seniors or just for younger people? Don’t let the name fool you – you don’t need an “occupation” to benefit from occupational therapy! Senior adults can benefit from working with an occupational therapist, too.

Like physical therapists, the goal of an occupational therapist is the provide rehabilitation. PTs are more focused on the patient’s movements while OTs focus more on activities of daily living. PTs may prescribe exercises to strengthen patients after an injury or health issue, restoring the ability to move, reducing pain, and preventing disability and further injury. OTs may focus more on enabling patients to continue performing important activities. This can involve altering the activity, the environment, and the patients’ skills.

Why would a senior need occupational therapy?

The aging process, injuries, and medical problems can diminish a person’s abilities. For example, arthritis, strokes, and Parkinson’s disease can affect fine motor skills and mobility; balance issues can lead to falls and injuries; dementia can impact the ability to perform everyday tasks; eye diseases can lead to vision loss; and so on.

Not only do these factors cause physical challenges, but they can also lead to isolation, depression, and anxiety as the person realizes their limitations and withdraws from beloved activities.

The good news is that occupational therapy for seniors can help these patients manage the obstacles they face.

Benefits of occupational therapy for seniors

Important methods that occupational therapists use to overcome an older adult’s challenges include:

  • Improving their physical abilities
  • Adapting the activity or environment
  • Educating caregivers
  • Providing emotional support to patients

Through these methods, occupational therapists help with a multitude of senior challenges.

1. Improving the activities of daily living

Occupational therapist helping woman regain her ADLs in the kitchen. Photo by Claraaa, Dreamstime. Occupational therapy for seniors offers many benefits: assisting in activities of daily living, building independence, supporting caregivers.

By teaching elderly patients exercise and rehabilitation techniques, OTs can enable them to continue performing ADLs such as walking, dressing, bathing and other hygiene needs, etc. Occupational therapists can also recommend adaptive tools, such as pullover clothing, jar opening devices, etc.

2. Preventing falls

Falls become more problematic as we age, especially as bones become more prone to breaking. OTs can teach patients exercises to improve balance, teach them ways to prevent falls, and make recommendations for home modifications to reduce fall hazards.

Related: Home Modifications for Parkinson’s Patients

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3. Improving memory skills and offering workarounds

Memory-enhancing activities such as puzzles can help build mental skills. When memory remains an issue, however, OTs can suggest workarounds – especially to caregivers. These can range from teaching caregivers how best to communicate with a forgetful loved one to offering helpful techniques: setting out a limited number of seasonal-appropriate clothing options, for example. An occupational therapist might also suggest non-drug therapies to help dementia patients, including music, pet ownership, and robot pets.

Related: Non-drug Therapies for Managing Dementia

4. Managing vision loss

Occupational therapy for seniors with vision loss helps them learn skills to overcome changes in what they can see. When feasible, OTs provide activities that help improve perceptual vision, pattern detection, and overall visual awareness. They also offer tips for navigating daily life safely, such as installing smart home systems, painting light switches in contrasting colors, color coding medications, etc.

5. Promoting independence

Whatever their patients’ age or challenges, occupational therapists want them to regain as much independence as possible. Beyond the physical benefits independence provides, the emotional benefits are priceless.

6. Supporting caregivers

An occupational therapist works to help the caregiver, too, knowing that doing so also helps the patient. This can include encouraging the caregiver to engage in self-care, teaching techniques for managing the patient’s needs, and suggesting helpful activities such as exercise, meditation, etc.

If you or your loved one has experienced diminished abilities due to aging, injury, or medical issues, occupational therapy for seniors may provide the solutions you seek.

Annie Tobey

Annie Tobey has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. As editor of BOOMER magazine, she explored a diversity of topics of particular interest to adult children of seniors. When she’s not writing, she can be found running the trails or enjoying a beer with friends.

Annie Tobey