After several months of falling off the internet radar due to unruly fingers, I realised I may need some outside help. That’s where occupational therapists and vocational rehabilitation comes into play.
It’s easy to become confused over the role of an occupational therapist, given that it seems as if it is related solely to work-based activities. However, they cover a wide range of issues and activities that allow a person to operate relatively independently.
What is occupational therapy?
Occupational therapy is crucial in helping a person cope with the functional, vocational, and social impact of the condition. It helps a person in improving sensory motor skills through regular exercises related to it. It also teaches us to avoid exposure to certain environmental and industrial toxins that can be harmful.
The OTs also teach self care activities and patient safety issues. The therapist also teaches us to pay attention to issues which involve functions like learning how to change positions smoothly to avoid becoming numb and how to prevent falling. They can work with physiotherapists to ensure you get the best care possible.
There is a strong educational element in occupational therapy. Therapists typically teach people how to:
- Prevent falls by watching out for uneven terrain and other hazards
- Adjust habits, such as sitting correctly without injuring yourself
- Make ergonomic changes at work and home to reduce pain and increase mobility
- Find the best solutions to allow you to live independently.
Obviously, there are a lot of crossovers with vocational rehabilitation when it comes to learning to stabilise yourself. From avoiding falling at home and work, as well as correcting your posture, which can be applicable in any situation. Therefore an OT can be in charge of:
- Environmental assessments – at school, work, home
- Equipment recommendations
- Fatigue management
- Career advice
- Workplace assessments
OTs are people-centred and their goal is to promote and enable independence. They will assess how well you cope with activities of daily living (ADLs), listen to your needs concerning personal care, leisure, work, study, travel and household management and advise on options for you. Their assessment may involve breaking down the activities you find hard into their component parts.
For example, if you have neuropathy you may struggle with everyday activities like getting dressed, opening food packets or holding a pen to write. Your OT will work with you to find solutions to these problems to help you remain independent. Solutions may come in the form of trying some adaptive equipment to compensate for your difficulty, or by working on activities to help maintain strength in certain muscle groups.
OTs can also make referrals for making splints for hands. People with HNPP may develop problems holding and gripping and experience some muscle wasting in their hands. A hand splint can help to keep your hand in a good position in order to minimise pain and muscle contractures.
At various stages of the condition, an OT may be able to offer expertise in areas such as:
- Individualised fatigue management programmes to understand the nature of your particular fatigue within your daily life
- How to more effectively prioritise and manage your time to achieve the things you want to do
- Strategies to improve sleep and good quality rest
- Relaxation as a coping strategy – for example as a stress or pain management technique
- Ergonomic information about effective joint protection and energy conservation strategies
- Hand-care techniques including provision of hand exercise programmes, fabrication of custom made hand splints to aid daily tasks, pain management and hand positioning
- Adaptive equipment from small aids to major adaptations for helping you at home or in your workplace
- Signposting and referring on to agencies to help with the cost of purchasing daily living aids and adaptations
- Information on employment legislation and your rights within the workplace
- Graded return-to-work and remaining-in-work programmes
- Care assessments for direct payments or home helps
- Mental health-related referrals.
In the UK, OTs work in various settings including community teams, social services and hospitals. The health professionals involved in your care, including doctors, nurses and therapists, can refer you to an occupational therapist if this is required. You may also be able to self-refer to some therapy services – so it is always worth giving your local social services a call. They will explain the correct process for your area.
Some of the adapted changes in my own home include:
- A wheelie tray to be able safely carry hot items from one place to another
- A food workstation – which has adapted facilities such as a place to hold objects in order to be able to cut safely, a flat grater and slicer
- Adapted knives – it has better grip and position to allow you to cut object safely
- Special cutlery – a bevelled fork allows you to use one hand to both cut and eat
- A bath board – to be able sit safely while in a bathtub
While you may feel helpless in the face of such an uphill battle, occupational therapists go a long way in assisting you to succeed.
- Complete Care Shop – for adaptive equipment – there is VAT relief for those with HNPP
- Living Made Easy – (NHS and OT recommended) price comparison site for adaptive equipment
- AbilityNet – help the lives of disabled people by helping them to use digital technology at work, at home or in education
- Naidex – disability information shows like Naidex are excellent for giving you an idea of what is available, but be warned, these shows are huge. Take advantage of their Shopmobility scooters, or you’ll never last the distance
- Expo Database – trade conferences around the world that showcase the latest disability equipment.