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What Is the Role of Occupational Therapy in Palliative Care?

By Marlene de Wilde
Updated May 17, 2024
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The role of occupational therapy in palliative care is to promote participation in occupations or meaningful life activities through a holistic and client-centered approach. By fostering a sense of independence in those suffering from life threatening conditions, occupational therapy enables patients in palliative care to deal more effectively with their situation. The inclusion of occupational therapy in palliative care teams is crucial to the easing of the end-of-life transition.

Palliation is the care or treatment given to patients whose condition can no longer be cured. The goal of palliative medicine is to relieve symptoms and extend quality of life for as long as possible. It involves an interdisciplinary team approach to providing pain relief and strategies for symptom management as well as offering support to both the patients and their families. The role of occupational therapy in palliative care is an important one as it provides the third goal of palliative care which is the provision of spiritual and psychological support. Quality end-of-life care enables the chronically ill and dying to spend their last days with dignity and without pain as much as possible.

Some patients may receive such care for months or years despite the fact that the care is synonymous with end-of-life conditions like cancer, liver failure and progressive neurological conditions. With the goal of maintaining quality of life, occupational therapists identify the activities and roles that are important to the patient and work towards enabling them to carry out these tasks. The performance of every day tasks provides patients with a sense of independence and self-efficacy.

These tasks may involve dressing and bathing oneself with the use of adaptive equipment and techniques. Where possible, paid employment, studying, shopping and engaging in leisure pursuits are also arranged by the therapists and palliative care team. Occupational therapy in palliative care is also concerned with showing clients fall prevention strategies, an awareness of safety issues and how to deal with symptoms connected with pain, fatigue, and breathing difficulties.

Occupational therapy in palliative care can take place in hospitals, hospices, in outpatient facilities or in the client's home. The therapist assesses the client's needs and then offers and demonstrates practical suggestions as to how to carry out everyday activities. This may necessitate finding, making or adapting equipment to assist in the achievement of independence. The end goal is to enable the person and their families to do the things which are meaningful to them.

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