Understanding How Occupational Therapy Can Help Patients with Dementia

Written by Occupational Therapy Assistant Program Students from Fox Valley Technical College, Cami Mobley & Emery Podowicz
What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is defined as a profession that helps individuals ranging over the entire aging spectrum to do things that an individual wants or needs to do. Occupational therapists work to enable individuals of all ages to live their life to its full potential by maximizing their level of independence in both day-to-day activities as well as leisure activities. This is done through the promotion of health, prevention of injuries and illnesses as well as disabilities. Occupational therapists perform assessments on an individual’s daily life in order to identify goals, routines, and activities that pertain to the activities the individuals wish to maintain, protect and work towards. It focuses on having individuals perform meaningful activities that can help increase the quality of life of those they work with.

How Can Occupational Therapy Help?

Occupational therapy (OT) can help individuals with a wide variety of tasks ranging from self-care to leisure participation and everything in between. People seek out occupational therapy services for a wide range of reasons from mental health to post surgical recovery. OT’s can help individuals with any daily tasks, ranging from getting dressed in the morning, to money management strategies, to even taking care of pets. OT’s provide client-centered interventions, focused on providing care specialized for each individual they treat. Whatever curveball life may throw at you, an occupational therapist can be there to help you through adaptations, modifications, education, and communication.

Occupational Therapy and Dementia

When it comes to occupational therapists working with patients living with dementia, the main goal is to help maintain function which they can do in many ways. Occupational therapists work to improve any difficulties or deficits an individual may have in their daily functioning, social participation, and wellbeing. They do so by making recommendations for modifications or adaptations that can be made to increase their performance and independence. For an individual living with dementia, this could include ways to adapt to one’s environment. These adaptations are recommended to better support the individual living with dementia as a way to maintain independence in tasks. Some examples of these environmental adaptations could include dementia friendly clocks and labeling doors and other frequently used items or locations.

Occupational therapists will also work with the family and caregivers involved to make sure the individual with dementia is receiving the proper care and that everyone is on the same page with treatment. The OT may provide practical advice for the individuals living with dementia as well. This may include recommendations of specialist seating or mobility aids or different techniques for managing care. Occupational Therapists want the individual living with dementia to maintain a good quality of life satisfaction through creating meaningful interventions and helpful adaptations to help them with their journey.

How Can Occupational Therapy Help Caregivers?

Occupational Therapists not only focus on helping their patients, but also the patients family as well. Many people in the caregiver role have no experience in this role but stepped up to the task to help a loved one. Caregivers of those living with dementia are experiencing chronic stress, emotional and physical exhaustion, and a decline in socialization. Occupational Therapists can provide caregiver education that teaches caregivers how to cope and manage stress, how to improve their caregiving skills through training, and how to improve their overall life satisfaction. The main thing for caregiver education is to remind the caregivers to take care of themselves and make themself a priority too! You cannot take care of someone else if you are not taking care of yourself!

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