Occupational Therapy: Making a Difference in Dementia

Aging is a tricky business. Independence is the goal and it seems to slip slowly out of reach at a faster pace. One fall leads to another… frustrating. If you are caring for an aging parent, you can totally relate. It’s hard to watch the ones we love become frail. We wish there was a way to keep them strong and vibrant as they enter their last season.

There is a way to help seniors stay strong and vibrant. Mental, physical, and psychological exercises help people of all ages develop, recover, and improve their ability to perform activities of daily living. Occupational therapists are skilled in treating patients through the therapeutic use of daily tasks to help with barriers that affect a person’s emotional, social, and physical needs.

What is Occupational Therapy?

The primary goal of occupational therapy (OT) is to promote an individual’s well-being and quality of life by empowering them to do everyday life tasks (occupations) despite any injury, illness, or disability they may be experiencing. Occupational therapists can address the needs of people of any age! Specifically, OT is making huge strides in improving the quality of life for individuals living with dementia and their caregivers.

4 Types of Interventions Used in Occupational Therapy

  1. Health promotion
  2. Remediation
  3. Maintenance
  4. Modification.

 1. Health promotion focuses on the wellness of the patient and caregiver.

The promotion of health is essential to get the best results in the daily activities of the individual living with dementia. Choosing wellness programs that highlight good nutrition for the household, regular wellness check-ups, and even a consistent meditation program can keep the patient and caregiver on track. As a person with dementia declines, not all activities will be completed like they used to do them. Therefore, the tasks will be continually adapted to meet current abilities.

2. The goal is not to restore memory but remediate functional abilities.

Mental activity is key to maintaining current cognitive function. Occupational therapists incorporate regular exercise into a patient’s care plan to help remediate functional abilities. This allows the individual living with dementia to improve mobility, strength, and endurance, all of which help improve the performance of daily activities.

Helpful Aids for Individuals with Memory Loss

Digital Calendar Alarm Day Clock

Dry Erase Magnetic Weekly Calendar

Amplified Photo Phone

Free Elderly Woman Combing Her Hair Stock Photo

3. An occupational therapist observes what is working and maintains those activities.

An occupational therapist doesn’t enter the home of a person living with dementia and their caregiver with the intention of starting all new routines. They observe what is working and promote how to maintain those routines. They appreciate and celebrate the habits that are currently working for the patient. Supporting what works makes a big impact in allowing individuals with dementia to live as independently as possible.

4. Modification is one of the most popularly used interventions.

An individual with dementia may have bathed in the same shower for thirty years. As dementia progresses, the task becomes more and more unfamiliar. This creates frustration and an unsafe situation for both the individual and their caregiver. An occupational therapist might modify the shower with a bath board. This would allow the individual with dementia to sit and slide into the shower rather than fear a slip and fall when stepping over the side of the tub. An occupational therapist looks at what’s there and what can be adapted to compensate for the current challenges dementia is causing.

Other Examples of Compensatory Strategies

Keep wallet/purse, keys, phone in the same place when not in use

Make lists and check off tasks

Take your time

Reduce clutter

Break down tasks into smaller steps

What Can Occupational Therapy Do to Help a Caregiver?

While OT is typically for the person living with dementia, the caregiver gets benefits from the services as well. Occupational therapists can offer low-tech solutions to problems that may be causing frustration. Grab bars, lighting, and wheelchair adaptations can be simple solutions to daily challenges that lead to frustration and a day-destroying meltdown.

Through in-home observation and ongoing evaluations, an occupational therapist learns the behaviors of the person living with dementia. Then, they work with the caregiver to adjust expectations to reduce agitation and other behaviors for the individual with dementia. Additionally, bowel and bladder incontinence is one of the primary reasons people with dementia are moved to care facilities – OT can be used to better manage that condition.

Who Pays for Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is paid for in several different ways. Medicare Part A benefits cover OT in a skilled setting, such as a skilled nursing facility, as well as at home through home health care services. Medicare Part B and insurance may pay for occupational therapy after Part A benefits are exhausted. And finally, private pay is always an option.

Don’t hesitate to ask your provider if they accept cash payments if you are not ready to end treatment after all insurance has been exhausted.

How Do I Find an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational therapists are common in skilled settings and home health care. But did you know you can find a Part B occupational therapist that provides mobile medical services? Part B occupational therapists provide services in the home and often don’t require a doctor’s order – just give them a call if you want to start services!

The invaluable knowledge and experience of occupational therapists are two reasons they are one of the Resources We Love! OT’s take the time to get to know the patient, the caregiver, and the home, allowing them to create a care plan that considers the whole person. For the person living with dementia and their caregiver, that can mean more precious time spent together focusing on the tasks that keep them strong and the support they need to stay at home longer.

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