Celebrating Occupational Therapy Month: Using the Past to Heal the Present

Occupational Therapy is more than just a profession – it’s a passion! Just ask your favorite OT. They will tell you the value of occupational therapy services and how they help people each and every day. If you have been injured, chances are you can thank an occupational therapist for your recovery!

Everyday activities are their specialty. Occupational Therapists take the time to learn your environment and habits to create strategies that work specifically for you. By taking time to look at who you are beyond the injury or disability, this specialist can implement techniques to improve, rehabilitate, or maintain your ability to perform daily tasks.

woman in white jacket

What is Occupational Therapy?

From its storied beginning, occupational therapy has never fit neatly in a box for labeling. Because of the unique and holistic practice of taking from physical therapy, nursing, social work, psychiatry, and more, occupational therapy developed a medical model all its own to functionally help clients. In the 1900s, OT found a foothold in the medical field when the U.S. military recognized the unique treatment of focusing on daily activities provided great value to those with mental health and physical challenges.

Occupational therapy is a science-driven, evidence-based profession that helps people of all ages participate fully in daily living or live better with injury, illness, or disability. No matter what stage you are in, we all enjoy the occupation of life! Occupational therapists develop strategies for everyday living to develop and maximize potential.

Occupational Therapy Example

Life happens. One moment you are crossing the parking lot to enter the grocery store and the next, you stumble over the curb, land awkwardly, and end up with a broken hip. A surgeon will repair the hip, a nurse will assist with pain management and dressing changes following the surgery, and a physical therapist will focus on the specific injury. But an occupational therapist? This is where their skillset shines.

After surgery, an occupational therapist assesses the activities that are important to you. They will focus on implementing strategies for you to regain independence and restore you to yourself – the person you were before the injury. We all have activities that define who we are – work, artistic expression, family roles, or leisure activities. OT uses those activities as therapeutic tools to help build lives back.

What do Occupational Therapists Do?

Occupational Therapists consider the complete picture of a person – including the psychological, physical, emotional, and social aspects that affect a person’s ability to perform their occupations. An OT can assist clients in participating in the daily activities they need to do or want to do that make their life full.

Occupational Therapy Improvements

Achieving goals

Functioning at highest level

Maintaining or returning to independence

Part of the holistic and compassionate approach of occupational therapy includes engaging with both the client and caregiver in strategies to help lessen struggles during treatment. When assessing a home environment, an occupational therapist keeps the caregiver in mind as well, including them in the day-to-day activities. This is particularly important when home modifications are recommended or training on new equipment is needed.  A caregiver is a major component in creating an occupational therapy treatment plan.

Occupational Therapists and Cognitive Impairment

Occupational therapists play a vital role in addressing the needs of adults with cognitive impairments. They assess impairments that can range from subtle to obvious and create a plan to help. Even the mild impairments of early onset Alzheimer’s can compromise the safety and well-being of clients, including the caregivers who live with them.

The needs of an individual with cognitive impairment may include a risk assessment for falls and a fall prevention plan. Through education with an occupational therapist, an individual with early onset Alzheimer’s can learn the mechanics of a fall, how to adjust the body for safety, and – hopefully – avoid serious injury. The level of cognitive awareness directly affects daily activities, and an occupational therapist strives to implement approaches that work for the client and include activities they will enjoy.

Occupational Therapy Example for Early Onset Alzheimer’s

When working with an individual with a dementia diagnosis, the holistic approach to occupational therapy becomes a kind, compassionate journey. A comprehensive evaluation of the client including information received from family and caregivers can lead to a plan of care that uses previous interests to improve the current situation. How does someone with dementia learn and retain new information? With a little help from the past…

occupational therapy painting woman

Mary was a 101-year-old woman diagnosed with dementia who had been referred to occupational therapy for generalized weakness. Unable to transfer safely or walk, Mary had become a fall risk and was at greater risk for injury. During Mary’s assessment, her therapist learned that Mary was a talented painter throughout her life until her dementia had progressed to the point she was unable to perform that activity.

Focusing on this important past occupation, the occupational therapist got an easel, small wooden boards, canvases, finger paint, and paintbrushes and set about creating a plan of care that would bring painting back into Mary’s life. While sitting in her wheelchair, Mary was required to reach across and over for painting supplies, facilitating trunk and arm movement. As she became physically stronger and more interested, a canvas was set on an easel at a higher level, requiring her to extend her arms and trunk to reach overhead and fingerpaint.

Using Past Joy to Create Current Success

Slowly, Mary was able to stand for short periods of time, make a few splashes and sit back down. Over time, Mary began standing for longer periods of time because she was participating in an activity she was interested in, an occupation that defined who she was. Eventually, her strength improved to the point that she was able to transfer safely and perform other activities of daily living with increased independence.

Activities Improved by Painting

Sit-to-stand transfers

Transferring from wheelchair to bed

Toileting with increased independence

Occupational therapy used a holistic approach by incorporating Mary’s past interests into her current therapy to achieve success! She was able to retain the process of getting up and down to paint because that was established in her long-term memory. Her occupational therapist understood that Mary would be motivated by the longtime occupation that defined her, restoring her strength and her joy.

painting for occupational therapy

Qualities of an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists are often drawn to the practice from a desire to make a difference in the lives of others during difficult times. Their people-centered and compassionate outlook is a key skill needed to be successful in improving the everyday lives of others. Truly, they are a bit of a unicorn, and spotting them out in the world is a wild and wonderful treat!

Skillsets Needed

Communication skills


Patience and flexibility

Occupational therapists often collaborate with other professionals during what can be a long road to restoring a client’s independence. Effective written and verbal communication is crucial to document the care plan and communicating the treatment process. Additionally, patience and flexibility are required for the ups and downs experienced by both client and therapist as the ability to perform daily activities is restored.

Occupational Therapists are in Demand

According to the Department of Labor Statistics, employment for OTs is expected to grow by 14% from 2021 to 2031. Why the faster-than-average growth of this specialty? The Baby Boomers created a sharp increase in the population of individuals needing treatment for age-related ailments like arthritis and stroke. Furthermore, individuals needing long-term treatment for disabilities and chronic illnesses will continue to demand skilled and compassionate practitioners.

Why Celebrate Occupational Therapy Month?

These professionals – these wild and wonderful unicorns of the medical field! – are worthy of celebration because they help people with physical, cognitive, and communication impairments do things that you and I may take for granted. Getting dressed, using a computer, or even bathing independently can be game-changing for the self-esteem and confidence of someone who has experienced an injury.

Imagine learning new tasks and strategies to help you live independently after an injury or accident. An occupational therapist will create a plan that will return you to the activities you knew before your life completely changed. And they will do that with patience, compassion, and even a little bit of humor to get you through the ups and downs of resuming your occupation – your life.

celebrate OT month with unicorns

How Do I Find an Occupational Therapist Near Me?

Occupational therapists can be found in hospital systems and rehabilitation centers. Perhaps most importantly to seniors aging in place, occupational therapists who can treat you in your own home are available, too! Finding the therapist that best meets your needs can be as simple as asking your doctor or other reputable mobile medical providers.

Their compassion for others and passion for improving lives are two reasons that Occupational Therapists are a Resource We Love. Learn more about the valuable services offered by Occupational Therapists in the Resources Section of our Blog.


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