The Different Patients You Encounter in Occupational Therapy

different patients you encounter in occupational therapy

Our guest blogger and occupational therapy professional Nikki Samuelson shares her experiences with working with the different patients in the OT field.

As an occupational therapist and health care professional, you will encounter all types of people: people of all ages with different personalities and priorities, people with different limitations and people with different backgrounds.

When working with infants, therapists focus on feeding and encourage exploration or interaction with their environment. A therapist working with children will most likely focus on handwriting and other school work, entry level sports activities, and basic ADLs (activities of daily living) such as getting dressed or simple food prep. Adolescents will be interested in interventions pertaining to growing into adulthood such as preparing for college or vocations, social activities, higher level sports and becoming more independent with simple IADLs (instrumental activities of daily living) like money management, household chores, and driving. Interventions for adults should be focused on their work roles, more complex IADLs, and parenting. Older adults need interventions relating to ADLs, IADLs, and with increased focus on interests and hobbies as they are often retired and have more leisure time.

Therapists can work in school systems, travel to treat a patient in their home, work in a hospital setting or as an outpatient therapist in a clinic. It is important to understand you may have all different ages in all different settings. You can have children, adults and older adults in outpatient clinics, adolescents, adults and older adults in skilled nursing facilities (depending on the seriousness of the diagnosis and their abilities) and you can have children or adults in home therapy. As you can see, no matter the setting, you will need to be a well rounded therapist and be equipped to tailor your therapy program based on their age, interests, and priorities.

People with socioeconomic limitations may have difficulty making regular doctor appointments and thus could be in poorer overall health. They could be less educated and need more one-on-one instruction during the therapy interventions to ensure follow-through with a home program. Individuals may not have the funds to come for every visit desired by the therapist to ensure quality care. They may be paying for all therapy costs out of pocket. They may have difficulty finding any transportation or may have unreliable transportation to therapy appointments. As a therapist, it is important to tailor the patient’s therapy program to ensure they have the best results while keeping all of these factors in mind. You may only see the patient once a week or once a month whereas you would see a different patient with quality insurance and adequate transportation three or four times a week for the same diagnosis. You must make sure the limited time you spend with these patients is used wisely.

Different cultures and religions will handle health conditions differently. For example, after a serious upper extremity injury, people of certain religions believe that they will be healed by holding their arm up against their chest by their heart. As you can imagine, that leads to overall upper extremity stiffness secondary to disuse. It is imperative to perform range of motion exercises when appropriate. Other religions and cultures believe it is sacrilegious to perform amputations. They will keep non functional, severely injured fingers at the expense of the rest of their hand. This causes the whole hand to be non functional because the injured finger gets in the way. You cannot argue with these patients, you will not be able to reason with them (although you may want to try!), and you have to accept them as they are and again, tailor their therapy program to ensure they have the best results while keeping all of these factors in mind.

As you will encounter patients from all walks of life, it is important to treat them all with an unbiased, impartial attitude and treat them to the best of your ability.

Written by NS, OTR

Are you interested in working first-hand with various different patients? Take a look at St. Catherine's online OTA program to learn how to become an occupational therapy assistant within 16 months. 

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The Ultimate Guide to Occupational Therapy and OTA

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