Occupational Therapy Month: Insight from an occupational therapist

Hillcrest Healthcare offers a comprehensive portfolio of services and therapies. Skilled nursing, rehabilitation and long-term care require a wide array of expertise. Our clinical associates, experts and partners provide excellent therapies and services – many of which are specialized to the needs of our patients.

Since April is Occupational Therapy Month, we wanted to highlight the great work of our occupational therapists and share some tips that you and your loved ones can use to stay safe.

Occupational therapists use assessments and interventions to develop, recover or maintain the activities of daily living such as dressing, grooming, eating and bathing. They help people optimize independence through use of occupation – and it’s not just “work” – it includes all the activities that you do in everyday life across a spectrum of ages from young children to seniors.

Colleen Oakley is an occupational therapist (OT) and clinical reimbursement specialist with Functional Pathways, the OT partner for Hillcrest Healthcare. She shares some insight on the importance of the profession and how to avoid some common issues that send patients to seek care.

What are some common reasons people need OT?
“Medical, orthopedic and neurologic are the big three. A recent illness like pneumonia, infection or the flu that sends a patient to the hospital can have negative effects that can be helped through OT. Patients who have broken a bone or had a joint replacement need OT to increase range of motion. Neurologic patients who have had a stroke or have neurologic diseases such as Parkinson’s or MS, need intensive care to regain activities of daily living.”

What are the most common treatments you provide?
“We offer services tailored on the unique needs of the patient – mostly related to activities of daily living. For most people that includes self-care such as bathing, dressing, cooking and cleaning. We look at more specific things such as seating and positioning, such as making sure if they have a wheelchair, for example, that it fits them correctly and that they can mobilize the chair. We also help with contracture management, which is when patients can’t move and their joints freeze, so we do range of motion exercises to help them increase mobility in joints. We also will do home assessments for some patients to make sure they can navigate living in their home after they’ve completed in-patient therapy.”

What facilities does Hillcrest Healthcare provide for OT patients?
“Each of the three Hillcrest communities has a therapy room called a gym where we do therapy. Due to COVID-19, we’ve had to modify services for safety reasons and have been providing therapy in the patient rooms. We come to them! Beverly Park Place also has an outpatient clinic, so while most of our therapy services are done on an in-patient basis, we also have outpatient services, too.”

What are some helpful tips for seniors?

  • “Stay active! Move around and stay involved in the activities you do. Your body is made up of muscles and you need to use them. If you don’t, you could see a decline that opens the door for complications.”
  • “Think about safety always! People do a lot of things that put them at unnecessary risk. Make sure your or your loved ones’ homes are clutter free, have stable furniture, plenty of places to sit, railing on stairways, no throw rugs on the floor and nothing to trip over at night.”

What are some everyday tools that can help OT patients?
“When I do OT, I tend to be hands-on and function based, so I really like to get people using all parts of their bodies with each activity – so I get them on the therapy mat because it works SO MANY muscles!

“I also focus on posture. A lot of issues come from poor posture. As we age, we flex and curl forward and that reduces visual field, tightens neck muscles and makes hamstrings tight, which increases risk for falls. I get patients on their backs flat and have them raise their arms above their heads. It stretches muscles on the front of the body. We curl forward at the computer, while eating and driving, so counteracting it with stretching helps.”

You also use technology in OT, can you talk about that?
“We use electrical stimulation and ultrasound machines to help with pain and frozen joints. These tools help with mobility, flexibility and strengthening. At West Hills and Beverly Park, we have a very interesting tool called Virtual Rehab Platform. It’s set up like a video game that lets you choose different exercises, based on the therapy needed. It uses gaming technology with a body mapping feature to do activities such as virtual skiing, which works on a patient’s balance in a fun way.

“NeuroGym utilizes two pieces of equipment to help patients with balance and sit-to-stand motions. One teaches patients how to regain their own balance. The sit-to-stand uses counterbalance to help patients stand. We even had one resident who had not been able to stand in three years who could do it successfully with the machine!”

It’s all about enhancing lives
“People say, ‘Whoever thought that brushing your teeth or washing your face could be so difficult?’ Healthy people take it for granted. Therapy isn’t easy. If it was easy, you wouldn’t need me!

“People are scared and vulnerable when they come in, they don’t know what to expect. We educate them. We develop a relationship, building rapport and trust. Some patients have given up, and we have to be their strength – helping them find ways to tap the fuel that’s still in their tank. Occupational therapists help you find courage, inspiration and strength when you don’t think you have it – we can reflect your own strength to you.

“My job is to enhance lives and I love doing my job at all three of the Hillcrest Communities. They’re wonderful and I’m delighted to help them and their patients.”

If you or a loved one need occupational therapy services, contact Hillcrest Healthcare today.