Do you have a parent who is struggling to complete daily tasks on their own? Maybe you’ve tried to help them, but your strategies just don’t seem to be effective?
One of the toughest parts of the aging process is losing the ability to do things that once were incredibly simple. When people lose the ability to complete everyday tasks, they tend to feel confused, frustrated, and sometimes even embarrassed.
Luckily, your parent does not have to feel this way. There are ways you can help your elderly parent gain more control over their life.
What we are referring to is occupational therapy. By enrolling your parent in an occupational therapy program, they’ll be given the opportunity to gain some of their independence back.
But, how does occupational therapy for the elderly work? What exactly are the benefits?
Read on to learn about the top 14 benefits of occupational therapy for elderly parents.
First, What is Occupational Therapy?
Many people understand what physical therapy is, but, they’re a little confused as to what exactly occupational therapy entails.
Occupational therapy is a process that involves helping people at all stages of life (from toddlers to elderly) develop, maintain, or recover the skills they need to daily activities (aka occupations) that are meaningful and necessary.
The type of occupational therapy a person receives will vary greatly on their needs. For example, an elderly person with Parkinson’s will receive a different treatment than a young child with Scoliosis.
Occupational therapists also educate and work with the patient’s support team (parents, caregivers, teachers, etc) to make sure everyone understands their role in relation to the patient’s care program.
So, what can an occupational therapist do to help an aging patient? Let’s take a look.
1. Overcome the Struggles of Everyday Life
A big part of an occupational therapist’s job is to help their patients overcome the struggles of everyday life.
For many elderly people, partaking in normal daily activities (such as walking, eating, etc) can be a huge, exhausting task. Oftentimes, they will become frustrated and give up halfway.
And, when they can’t perform basic daily tasks, they’re also often less inclined to attempt to participate in other aspects of life, such as social gatherings, family outings, and hobbies. This can quickly lead to feelings of depression and isolation.
And this is why the role of an occupational therapist is so important. Occupational therapists work with elderly patients and teach them exercise and rehabilitation techniques that make completing daily tasks, such as dressing, eating, and bathing, much easier.
Occupational therapists help patients improve their fine and basic motor skills, strength, dexterity, and their range of motion. Even small improvements in these areas can make all the difference when it comes to completing an everyday task.
2. Prevent Falls
Did you know that 1 in 4 Americans over the age of 65 have a fall each year? And that every 11 seconds, an elderly adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall? And that every 19 minutes someone dies from a fall?
While falls may seem like a minor issue, these statistics highlight just how dangerous it can be for an elderly person to fall.
The thought of your parent falling without anyone around to help them is very scary.
Luckily, you can put your mind at ease by enrolling your parent in occupational therapy. Occupational therapists are well aware of the prevalence of falls among elderly patients.
Therefore, therapists teach their patients methods that can prevent falls. They also teach them balancing and muscle building exercises that help keep their bodies strong and alert for years to come.
3. Memory Rehabilitation
When people think about occupational therapy, they mostly think about the physical benefits it provides. However, occupational therapy provides a number of mental benefits as well.
When occupational therapists first meet with their patients, they will evaluate their cognitive abilities as well as their physical abilities.
For example, if your elderly parent has dementia, their occupational therapist will assess their areas of strength and weakness, and then they will develop a care plan that involves maintaining the strong areas and strengthening the weak areas.
All elderly people suffer from some degree of memory loss. Here are some of the different ways occupational therapists help elderly patients regain their memory skills:
- Engaging in memory-enhancing activities, such as puzzles, crossword puzzles, or matching games
- Placing stop signs on front doors or gates for elderly patients who get easily disoriented and wander
- Teaching caregivers non-defensive techniques to help them deal with patients who experience sudden personality changes
- Teaching caregivers techniques that won’t further confuse the patient’s memory, such as placing out a limited number of clothing options in case their patient forgets what season it is
These are just a few examples of ways an occupational therapist can help improve a patient’s memory and make coping with memory loss easier.
4. Better Outlook
Besides memory restoration, the other major mental benefit of occupational therapy is that it can give your elderly parent a better outlook on life.
When an elderly parent starts to lose their abilities, they often think to themselves, “How am I going to spend the rest of my life living this way?”
By participating in occupational therapy, your parent will realize that although their body and mind are changing, they can still live a very fulfilling life. Occupational therapists help give patients the confidence and determination they need to make the most out of their elderly years.
5. Home Modifications
Many elderly people live in homes that are simply not suitable for them anymore.
Things like stairs, slippery floors, and bathtubs and showers can all pose a risk to elderly people.
An occupational therapist will look at the layout of your parent’s home and make recommendations for modifying it. These modifications will make your parent’s home safer and promote independent living. Modifications may include:
- Walk-in showers or bathtubs
- Handrails and grab bars in the shower and throughout the home
- Wheelchair ramps
- Power lift recliners
- Slip-resistant flooring
- Home monitoring or medical alert systems
The occupational therapist will also teach your parent how to use all of these devices and modifications. For example, they will teach them the appropriate way to enter a shower with the use of handrails. Or they’ll teach them how to work their medical alert system in the event of a fall.
6. Help With Vision Loss
By the age of 65, approximately 1 in 3 Americans have some form of a vision-reducing eye disease.
While fixing vision impairment when you’re younger is often as simple as a trip to the eye doctor for glasses or contacts, with elderly patients, it is not so simple. Elderly patients who suffer from vision loss or eye diseases also tend to struggle with performing everyday activities. This, in turn, puts them at greater risk for mental illnesses, like depression and anxiety.
Luckily, occupational therapists can help elderly patients who struggle with vision loss.
Occupational therapists conduct activities with elderly patients that help improve perceptual vision, pattern detection, and overall visual awareness. Occupational therapists will also commonly suggest changes in the home or workplace to make sure their vision loss does not get in the way of everyday life.
For example, an occupational therapist may suggest:
- Removing clutter in the home that poses as a tripping hazard
- Using color-coded tags to help identify objects
- Adding more lighting and contrasting to the home
- Placing magnifiers in the home
- Placing bright stickers on important buttons, such as dishwashers, laundry machines, and microwaves
- Painting walls a light color, and then painting outlets a dark color so they’re easy to locate
- Labeling medication with large print
- Color coding medication
- Placing bright tape on steps to prevent falling
As you can see, many of these modifications are relatively simple and hardly cost anything. Yet, they can make all the difference for an elderly person who struggles with vision loss.
7. Life Transitions
While we go through many transitions throughout our life, a majority of the tough ones happen when we are older.
Elderly people have to go through tough transitions like retirement, widowhood, and relocation. Many elderly people also have to say goodbye to a large number of friends who pass before they do.
All of these transitions can be tough to deal with. And, if your parent does not have a partner, these transitions can make them feel particularly alone.
Occupational therapists can help elderly parents deal with these big life transitions by educating them on healthy coping skills.
8. Provide Assistance to Caregivers
An often overlooked benefit of occupational therapy is the help it can provide to caregivers. Currently, 29 percent of the US population provides care for an elderly person in any given year. And, they spend about 20 hours per week providing care.
Are you the primary caregiver for your parent?
If so, then you know how physically, emotionally, and financially draining the task can sometimes be. But, because you love your parent, this can sometimes be hard to admit.
Luckily, occupational therapists have you in mind too, and they want to make sure that you’re feeling as healthy as possible as well. Basically, an occupational therapist will want to make sure that you are helping your parent maintain a healthy lifestyle without sacrificing your own.
An occupational therapist will:
- Encourage the caregiver to express their concerns, frustrations, and feelings of anger and sadness
- Teach the caregiver healthy coping strategies
- Encourage the caregiver to develop healthy lifestyle habits and hobbies outside of their caregiving hours (such as exercising, meditating, practicing yoga)
- Keep caregivers up to date on current research about their elderly patient’s conditions and illnesses
- Inform the caregiver about what they are teaching their elderly patient, so the caregiver can continue this work at home
Being a caregiver is one of the hardest jobs around. Occupational therapists are there to serve as an outlet and a resource for your needs as well.
9. Recommendations for Patients With Dementia
It is estimated that 1 in 10 men and 1 in 6 women who live past the age of 55 will develop dementia in their lifetime.
Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to stop the progression of dementia once it’s begun.
However, that doesn’t mean that occupational therapists can’t help patients with dementia live a better life. If your elderly parent suffers from dementia, their OT can provide them with recommendations that will make life a little easier.
For example, they may suggest eating certain foods with pleasing textures in case eating becomes difficult. Or, they may suggest listening to certain types of soothing music or stretching exercises to help eliminate pain.
10. A Trusted Confidant
Last but not least, occupational therapists serve as trusted confidants to your elderly parent.
As we discussed at the beginning of this article, many elderly people feel embarrassed about not being able to do the things they once could. And, even though you are their child, they still may not feel comfortable talking to you about the problems that come with old age.
Oftentimes, they think you will not understand, or they simply don’t want to burden you with their concerns.
An occupational therapist is someone your parent can talk to about their concerns when they’re not comfortable coming to you. Occupational therapists are trained professionals who have worked with many elderly patients.
So, they will know how to talk to your parent in a way that makes them feel better, but not belittled.
Sometimes, just having someone to talk to that isn’t a family member can make all the difference in the life of an elderly person.