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How Can An Occupational Therapist Help Me? Your Occupational Therapy Questions Answered

If you’ve never worked with an occupational therapist before, you may wonder:

  • What does an occupational therapist do?
  • How do kids work with occupational therapists?
  • Do occupational therapists only help with work-related problems, or something else?
  • Can an occupational therapist help me?

These are all fantastic questions – and the reality is that occupational therapists play a vital role in the lives of many New Zealanders who have been left unable to do things the way they used to following an injury, illness or difficult life circumstances. This means that occupational therapists work extensively with children, adults and the elderly alike – and by helping them return to living their daily lives in a more comfortable way, they are considered a crucial part of any rehab team.

So, what exactly does an occupational therapist do, what are the benefits of seeing them, and what are some signs that you could benefit from occupational therapy care yourself?

 

What Does An Occupational Therapist Do?

An occupational therapist (OT) helps people across all stages of life carry out their daily activities, also called occupations (very different from being directly related to work), by using targeted activities, interventions and equipment so that you can take care of yourself, carry out daily tasks independently, and stay active, with as little pain as possible.

Common situations where an occupational therapist is involved in a person’s care include dealing with:

  • Arthritis and joint problems
  • Chronic pain or nerve problems
  • Stroke or brain injury
  • Dementia
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy or spinal cord injury
  • Mental health and behavioural problems

Occupational therapists also contribute to the care of high-needs individuals such as

  • Children struggling at school or daycare
  • Elderly people 
  • People with physical or learning disabilities
  • Those who have received a health diagnosis or had a life-changing injury

 

What Are The Benefits Of Seeing An Occupational Therapist?

The benefits of seeing an occupational therapist are significant as they can help such a wide range of people in most aspects of their everyday life. OTs develop personalised treatment programmes for each person’s needs, the benefits of which can include: 

Making everyday tasks easier

For many people, carrying out daily activities such as dressing, walking and eating can be a daunting, painful and difficult task, and they can feel discouraged and give up easily. OTs can help people to improve their motor skills, strength, and their range of motion through exercise and rehab techniques. This includes gross motor skills involved in walking, sport and balance, and fine motor skills such as manipulating clothing fasteners and holding pencils at school. 

 

Preventing falls

OTs commonly work with people who are more at-risk of falls due to age or difficulties with posture, nerve damage or mobility. They can work with you to restore balance and build strength, and help to prescribe assistive devices, if necessary. 

 

Cognitive, mental health and memory improvements

Often, when people think about occupational therapy, they overlook non-physical benefits it can provide. However, occupational therapy provides a number of mental benefits as well. For example, for older people those who struggle with memory loss, OTs may use engaging activities to enhance memory such as puzzles or matching games, place stop signs on front doors or gates for those who get disoriented and wander, and teach caregivers supportive techniques, such as only putting a limited number of clothing options in their wardrobe that correspond to the season. 

 

Home modifications

Many people live in homes that do not fully support their needs, and an OT can recommend the best ways to modify it. Depending on each person’s unique challenges, this may include: 

  • Handrails and grab bars in the shower and throughout the home, ramps and slip-resistant flooring
  • A medical alert system 
  • Removing clutter in the home that poses a tripping hazard
  • Using colour-coded tags to help identify objects
  • Adding more lighting and contrast to the home
  • Placing bright stickers on important buttons, such as dishwashers, laundry machines, and microwaves
  • Helping make light switches easier to locate
  • Labelling medication with large print or images
  • Placing bright tape on steps and corners

 

Enhancing social skills

OTs are also experienced in helping children, older adults and those with intellectual challenges, to enhance social skills with others by working on play, taking turns, sharing, expressing emotions, understanding social cues, and building relationships. 

 

Utilising assistive technology

OTs can identify ways of using assistive technology tools to improve or maintain your physical or mental function, such as adaptive scissors, weighted feeding utensils, and dressing aids for putting on difficult items such as socks.

 

Signs You Can Benefit From An Occupational Therapist

If something is causing you to struggle with everyday tasks — from gripping your toothbrush to getting in and out of your car — occupational therapy may be able to help. If you or a loved one struggle with any of the following, or have other concerns relating to completing daily tasks or staying independent, we recommend getting in touch with a qualified occupational therapist:

  • Problems with fine or gross motor skills
  • Kids not achieving developmental milestones
  • Changed health, recent major surgery
  • Significant illness that has changed your ability to perform daily tasks
  • Mobility challenges 
  • Minor falls or balance issues 
  • Growing concern about independence
  • Lack of hygiene 
  • Lack of interest in every activities or memory problems
  • Children with developmental delays in fine or gross motor skills including writing and coordination 
  • Anxiety around driving
  • Any condition that makes doing activities challenging, unenjoyable or painful
  • You would like to be more involved in your community or socially

 

Think You Or Your Children Will Benefit From Occupational Therapy But The Cost Is Holding You Back?

While an occupational therapist can undoubtedly improve the lives of many New Zealanders while promoting their independence and confidence, having the upfront funds to cover the cost of OT appointments is a significant barrier for many, especially if you’ve never seen an OT before so can’t appreciate the extent of the impact their help can make.

This is where New Zealand’s leading health-focused Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) platform, HealthNow, has stepped in to bridge this gap at no cost to health consumers. Used as an app on your smartphone, your total appointment cost, including the cost of any products, is split over up to twelve weeks, leaving your upfront cost at only a fraction of what it would otherwise be.

Unlike other BNPL services that charge fees or interest, which further disadvantage those that are in pain and are trying to be proactive about their health, HealthNow remains completely free to users, and occupational therapy clinics and practitioners still get paid in full by HealthNow on the day of the visit. This win-win platform is transforming healthcare access for New Zealanders, enabling them to get the best outcomes for their health by not being forced to delay their care.

 

To start using HealthNow and claim your free $10 credit when you first create an account, sign up here. You can also check out HealthNow’s full benefits and features, including a health wallet to store funds set aside for health services that can be contributed to by others including your employer. 

 

 

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