Occupational therapy comprises activities and therapeutic approaches designed to help physically and mentally impaired individuals perform basic and complex life tasks. Some populations have a higher rate of occupational therapy needs, such as the elderly. Geriatric occupational therapy activities are designed to to maintain average functioning, so activities may be physical, cognitive, or social in nature. Relevant types of activities can therefore include anything from light exercise to game-playing to managing money. Activities of daily living are also a prominent aspect of geriatric occupational therapy activities.
Many diseases and conditions can impact daily functioning, and individuals are more susceptible to these effects as they age. The most obvious effects of such conditions are physical. Light physical therapy that encourages stretching and mobility may be one type of geriatric occupational therapy for elderly individuals recovering from short-term or relatively minor physical ailments like broken bones or arthritis. In addition, many diseases like diabetes manifest with a number of physical symptoms that require medication. Occupational therapists help elderly patients with managing these medications.
A combination of physical and cognitive — or mind-related — issues prevent many geriatric individuals from performing typical activities of daily living (ADL). A large percentage of geriatric occupational therapy activities thus focus on aiding the elderly with these activities. Examples include the following: eating, dressing, bathing, and going to the bathroom. Approaches to these therapies often consist of breaking the individual steps into increments and performing the activity in a slow and deliberate manner.
A subtype of ADL occupational therapies is instrumental ADL therapy. Activities that necessitate advanced thinking skills comprise these approaches. Specific targeted activities range from keeping track of and making financial transactions to cooking meals. These activities require that the occupational therapist address a number of potential aging problems, such as a diminished capacity for multitasking.
Memory naturally regresses as individuals grow older, and sometimes simple cognitive issues may escalate into full-blown impairments like dementia. In order to help prevent these problems, geriatric occupational therapy activities are often based on problem-solving, analytical, and other thinking-based skills. Such preventive occupational therapy can be as simple as doing crossword puzzles. Occupational therapists can further stimulate a patient’s mind by tailoring activities around areas of interest to the individual. As an example, the therapist might engage in a game of chess with an elderly patient who plays the game as a hobby.
As individuals age, social interaction often lessens for a number of reasons. The individual may be home-bound due to physical limitations or may reside in a nursing home away from family and friends. Many of the individual’s loved ones and peers may have passed away as well. Because of these factors, many geriatric occupational therapy activities emphasize socialization. Occupational therapists working in a nursing home might arrange game nights, for example, or may take patients to social functions like concerts, sporting events, or plays.