Occupational therapy can aid elderly adapt to growing older

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By The Staff

Today, with advances in medicine and health care, more and more elderly Americans are living longer and wishing to remain in their homes and live as independently as possible.

Many elderly people would rather have the comfort and ease of staying in their own private, comfortable surroundings instead of going into a skilled nursing facility or a community setting to live.

This concept is called Aging in Place.

One goal of Aging in Place is to enhance the quality of life for the elderly. This will ensure that they can be comfortable in their surroundings and able to independently engage in activities needed to take care of themselves and their home.    

Another goal is to make sure that the necessary modifications are made to a person’s home so that they can function safely in their home alone.

This is where Occupational Therapy comes in. An Occupational Therapy Practitioner (OT Practitioner) can teach elders new techniques and adaptations for their daily activities that will help them do these activities as independently as possible.

Education about safety in the home is also important.

There are several factors that an OT Practitioner will look at when deciding how safe it is for elder persons to remain in their homes.

The OT Practitioner will make sure that the elder has a strong support system, and someone to be available in case of an emergency. Anyone identified in the support system should be willing to run errands, such as picking up prescriptions, doing small things around the house, and maybe even transporting the individual to the doctor if need be.

The OT Practitioner will also look at how well the elder can manage medications, and can offer suggestions for improvement such as a daily checklist of medications to be taken, a daily or weekly pill box and special easy-open tops for medication bottles to make them easier to open.

An OT Practitioner can evaluate elders to make sure that they have good cognitive skills and can make good decisions in case of emergencies.

They can teach the individual where to go in case of a tornado, whether it is in the basement if one is available or in the tub  or interior closet if not.

All emergency phone numbers should be visible and near each phone in the house and there should be at least two options for the person to call in case of an emergency.

The OT Practitioner will also make sure that the individual has the ability to manage finances and pay bills. If not, there should be someone who can take care of those issues.

Another service that can be provided by an OT Practitioner is modification of the home environment to help compensate for any disabilities that the individual may be experiencing.

These modifications can range from ramps for wheel chairs, to installing grab bars in the bathroom areas, to making sure the kitchen area is as safe as can be.

The individual may need adaptive equipment that the OT Practitioner can help with such as reachers to grab things up high or walkers or canes to help with mobility.

The OT Practitioner can educate an elderly person in safety around the home, for instance, picking up all throw rugs to prevent falls, and making sure that the person knows how and when to lock all the doors in their home.

Community mobility is another issue that an OT Practitioner can address.

If elderly individuals cannot drive, the OT Practitioner can educate them on the different community mobility services in their area.

Another area that is important to the elderly is socialization. Socialization is important to the psychological well being of older Americans who live alone at home.

An OT Practitioner can help individuals find new social activities and even work to develop programs that address the needs of the elderly.

The right care and support can make the difference between elderly people staying in their homes and having to move somewhere else.

OT practitioners can offer new, advanced modifications or adaptive equipment to make this process happen. All of the issues that an Occupational Therapist or Occupational Therapy Assistant can address will help an individual remain independent in familiar environments as they grow older.

For further information visit www.aota.org.