April 8, 2002
Contributions of occupational therapists recognized in April
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—They work in ways that aren’t always obvious. Whether they’re helping a first-grader master handwriting, a senior citizen cope with arthritis or preparing a workstation to prevent serious injury, occupational therapists help people of all ages.
The American Occupational Therapy Association recognizes April as National Occupational Therapy Month.
To help inform the public about occupational therapy and its benefits, Methodist Rehabilitation Center OTs are holding events throughout the month including a presentation at the Jackson Medical Mall on April 16.
“There are a lot of people out there who have us confused with physical therapists and they are two different disciplines,” said Roxanne Gould, an OT from Brandon who works in Methodist Rehab’s traumatic brain injury program. “There are people out there who could really benefit from our services, but they don’t know what we do so they don’t know how we can help.”
Occupational therapists help those affected by illness or injury re-learn how to do common tasks. Sometimes that means learning a new way to get dressed or sometimes it means providing equipment to help carry out other basic tasks such as driving.
“We can take people who have been injured and test them before we put them back in a car,” said occupational therapist Marcia King. “We can test their reaction time and make sure they know safety rules. We evaluate each patient to see if they need special equipment.”
For example, King added, someone with a spinal cord injury who is paralyzed will need hand controls to operate a car.
But you don’t have to wait until your injured for an OT to be useful.
“Much of our work is preventive medicine,” said Julie Walker, of Brandon. Walker visits job sites and evaluates conditions to make sure employees are safe from injuries, particularly in office environments.
“I’ll check the heights of monitors and keyboards and make sure employees are using good posture,” said Walker. “I can provide equipment to help make work not only safer, but also more comfortable.”
Serious maladies such as carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress disorders can be prevented this way as well as other head and neck problems.
OTs also help senior citizens maintain their independence even after disorders such as diabetes have set in. “We help people take care of themselves after they’ve had hip and knee replacements and also after some diabetics have faced an amputation,” said Jennifer Bird, an occupational therapist in the rehab surgery program at Methodist Rehab. “But we also show them ways to prevent falls that are often seriously damaging to older bones. One thing we work on is getting in and out of a car without injury.”
Bird puts her patients through different tasks, making sure that they can cook, do laundry and dress themselves. Sometimes, she teaches her patients a new way to do a task to compensate for an injury or the loss of a limb.
“A lot of our patients live alone, so we want to make sure they can take care of themselves. We do whatever it takes to help our patients stay active and maintain the skills they need for life.”