Memorial Regional Health: At Memorial Regional Health, occupational therapy patients get back to what they love
Despite common misunderstandings of the profession, occupational therapists do not help people get jobs.
However, they do help patients develop and advance skills for one extremely important job: The job of living.
Everyday activities — such as getting dressed, going to the bathroom, taking a shower, cooking a meal or walking up a flight of stairs — are the “occupations” these therapists help their patients accomplish.
“A lot of our job is trying to decrease caregiver burdens and give patients back their independence,” said Susan Jones, an occupational therapist at Memorial Regional Health.
Occupational therapy has been a profession in the United States for about 100 years. At Memorial Regional Health, occupational therapy services include post-surgery training, coping with Alzheimer’s and dementia, management practices for progressive diseases such as Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis and therapy for pediatric disabilities.
Specialty care includes brain injury and stroke recovery, neurological rehabilitation, fine motor coordination, home reintegration, cognitive rehabilitation and other services.
Return to functioning
After an injury, a person might struggle with tasks such as moving their arms or legs. Their brain is telling them to make certain movements, but the body isn’t able to respond to those cues. An occupational therapist helps the brain and body reestablish neurological connections, said Tracy Perish, an occupational therapist at Memorial Regional Health.
In mental health cases, occupational therapy helps patients create and execute a plan. For example, children whose parents are going through a divorce would see a therapist to help them work through the emotions of the divorce, but an occupational therapist would help a child make a plan for what he or she would like to do with dad on the weekends.
“Mental health and occupational therapy is giving patients a way to set a plan for what they can do,” Perish said.
Because every patient’s needs vary, Jones and Perish assess each patient, individually, to develop the right treatment plan.
A child struggling with handwriting in school, for example, would work with an occupational therapist on fine motor skills. A person recovering from surgery might need help relearning how to put socks on or get dressed.
The joy in teaching
Jones has been an occupational therapist for 14 years and said she never gets bored. There’s joy in the profession that comes with every step of progress a patient makes.
“You don’t even realize you’re at work,” Jones said. “I love trying to make my patients laugh, even the ones who are cranky.”
That’s what Perish and Jones want the community to know about occupational therapy — that it’s truly a benefit for anyone who is struggling to complete daily tasks or isn’t able to enjoy passions or hobbies anymore.
Perish said that, because the therapy goes hand-in-hand with a specific activity — from brushing one’s teeth to typing on the computer — there’s a strong sense of accomplishment and joy when those activities become possible again. Helping people do what they want to do, independently, is a rewarding job.
“We get people back to doing the things they love,” Jones said. “We’re here to help — we can provide services from birth to geriatrics.”
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