Because April is National Occupational Therapy Month, it’s time to clear up some myths and misconceptions about this important health care field.
Occupational therapy and physical therapy are two areas in the medical field that have significant benefits to elders in helping them stay as independent as possible and enjoy a high quality of life. As family caregivers work hard to assist their elder loved ones in establishing what they need, they may feel a little confused about these two professions. Occupational therapy and physical therapy are definitely closely related, but there are significant differences that family caregivers must know to ensure their loved one is getting exactly the type of care they need.
All About Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy is a form of rehabilitation that helps patients perform life skills, adapt to injuries or medical conditions and overcome barriers of physical impairment. An occupational therapist works with patients to master daily tasks from grooming and dressing to cooking and enjoying hobbies. Occupational therapists will guide the patient through exercises to strengthen weak areas and even learn new ways of doing regular tasks.
OTs will also advise patients about modifying their environment to boost independence and abilities. Many occupational therapists even work with elderly patients right in their own homes. An occupational therapist is focused on helping patients perform daily tasks with any manner of impairment. While home care aides and elder care aides are not trained to create a program for the elderly, they can assist with exercises or even drive the elders to the clinics for therapy.
All About Physical Therapy
Physical therapists mostly focus on treating injuries as well as disabilities in movement. They are focused mostly on treating the actual impairment that the patient is suffering from by reducing pain, increase mobility and helping them to heal as much as possible. Physical therapy exercises may focus on building up muscle strength, aligning joints and bones, recovering after a surgery or learning to use a wheelchair. Physical therapists are less likely to guide patients in the details of performing daily tasks, such as cooking or bathing.
PTs are often the first type of therapy that elders work with after a major health issues as they focus on getting the body back to its healthiest state. Physical therapists work with doctors and patients to develop a comprehensive plan to focus on fitness and wellness as they help them boost their functional and physical abilities. Elder care aides can make sure their clients are following through with the exercises and can help provide motivation and transportation as needed.
Similarities and Differences for OT and PT
Both occupational therapy and physical therapy are designed to help patients function as normally as possible despite physical limitations. The best way to understand the difference between the two is that physical therapy focuses on helping and healing the body, or physical rehabilitation, while occupational therapy focuses on how that body will function in daily life and engage in meaningful activities.
Occupational therapists are the ones that will work with patients to handle household activities with their current physical abilities. Physical therapists are the ones that work with patients on recovering strength, balance and physical abilities. Both professions aim to help people overcome physical limitations, educating patients on avoiding injuries, and modifying the environment so that patients can regain as much ability as possible.
When family caregivers are educated about the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy, they will be able to help their aging loved ones make arrangements for the type of help they need to manage their condition and achieve long-term health and wellness benefits.