Occupational therapy helps people maximize their engagement in, and independence with, daily activities

Occupational therapy (OT) helps people maximize their engagement in, and independence with, daily activities – often following a life-changing event, such as a new medical diagnosis or workplace injury.

Your occupational therapist’s goal is simple: to help you regain your independence through self-care, returning to work, or getting back to the leisure activities you enjoy – depending on your situation and needs. OT gives individuals “the skills for the job of living.”

“Occupational therapists are professionals trained to look at the individual as a whole person, working collaboratively to identify their goals in order to maximize the person’s ability to participate in activities that the individual wants or is expected to perform,” says Megan Driscoll, assistant program director, outpatient occupational therapy, and program director, chronic pain management.

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Understanding Occupational Therapy

Your occupational therapist will help you learn new ways to perform daily activities, including:

  • Self-care management: bathing, dressing, eating, and grooming.
  • Home management: bill paying, gardening, cleaning, cooking, and home and automobile maintenance.
  • Health and wellness management: medication, rest and sleep, stress management, and coping with ongoing illness or injury (such as chronic pain or stroke).
  • Socialization and communication: leisure, technology use.
  • Community mobility: driving or navigating public transportation; school/education.
  • Adapting to low vision challenges.
  • Managing physical, cognitive, and functional changes following stroke or brain injury.

Occupational therapists evaluate a patient’s daily living task performance by understanding how people interact with their home, work, and school environments. OTs develop a personalized care plan and determine if adaptive or ergonomic or technology would help improve your function.

“Occupational therapy is the science of living,” says Holly Stants, MS, OTR/L, SCLV, SLVT, low vision rehab team leader. “We can promote an individual’s capacity to learn and see transformation every day in the low-vision clinic. We provide an avenue of hope: light in the dark.”

Occupational therapists also fit, fabricate, and help people learn how to properly use adaptive equipment, such as reaching devices, low-vision technology devices, transfer equipment, dressing aides, and splints/orthotics.

Who Benefits from Occupational Therapy?

People of any age benefit from occupational therapy. People with trauma, injury, stoke, cognitive changes, or low vision can also lead more fulfilling lives with the help of an OT.

“Occupational therapists appreciate the physical, neurological, emotional, and functional challenges a person faces following a life-changing event, such as a stroke,” says Madeline Williamson, MS, OTR/L, CPAM neurological rehab team leader. “As a result, we join in a person’s success when they discover a new way to perform any meaningful activity, such as cooking a meal, caring for grandchildren, and returning to work.”

Injuries or conditions that could benefit from occupational therapy include:

  • Neurological injury (stroke, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury).
  • Workplace injury.
  • Orthopaedic injury.
  • Automobile accident.
  • Chronic pain.
  • Hand and upper extremity injuries.
  • Low vision/vision impairment.
  • Cancer.
  • Challenges of aging.
  • Chronic illnesses including diabetes, arthritis, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias

Your therapist and doctor will work with you to develop a tailored program based on your needs and goals for the future. Learn more by visiting the occupational therapy webpage at UPMC Centers for Rehab Services.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Rehabilitation Institute

The UPMC Rehabilitation Institute offers inpatient, outpatient, and transitional rehabilitation, as well as outpatient physician services so that care is available to meet the needs of our patients at each phase of the recovery process. Renowned physiatrists from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as highly trained physical, occupational, and speech therapists, provide individualized care in 12 inpatient units within acute care hospitals and over 80 outpatient locations close to home and work.