What is Occupational Therapy and How Can it Help My Aging Loved One?

October is here and it’s Occupational Therapy Month in Canada. But what exactly is occupational therapy and how does it apply to you and your family?


Occupational therapy is a type of health care that helps to minimize and prevent issues with a person's ability to do everyday tasks and to increase their functional independence. This can range from eating, getting dressed, exercising, and social activities. Occupational therapists (OTs) are educated and trained to understand the physical, mental, and psychosocial factors that affect those who are aging, injured, or disabled. The goal of occupational therapy is to help patients lead more satisfying and productive lives, as well as improving their overall health and wellness.


So, how can occupational therapy help your situation?

Occupational therapy applies to many unique situations that become more relevant as we get older:



Alzheimer's disease can severely impact a person’s day-to-day function and occupational therapy aims help clients and their families understand this. Occupational therapists work with clients to find ways to deal with impediments and maintain their self-sufficiency. This type of therapy can help those suffering with Alzheimer’s with developing a schedule for daily activities, modify homes to avoid accidents, and promote opportunities for independence.



According to Statistics Canada, “63% of seniors, 50% of adolescents and 35% of working-age adults have been injured by falls.” In hopes of decreasing the amount of senior falls, occupational therapists have a look at environmental, personal, and behavioural factors that affect clients' activities in the home and community. Simple solutions to these factors include: ensuring stability in railings, implementing teachings for their client to walk with a cane, and eliminating the opportunity for slippery surfaces. These changes can help your loved ones rebuild confidence in everyday activities after they have experienced a fall.


Older Adults

Although a large majority of aging adults live in their own homes, the incidence of chronic illness increases with age - 1 in 10 people aged 75 or older need assistance with everyday tasks. This can aid in facilitating opportunities for independence and social connectivity, develop residential care schedules, and resources that contribute to an active lifestyle for older adults.

Social Inclusion

Physical health is important, and social and mental health is just as relevant. Social health and inclusion ensure social equality and participation, all while focusing on one's sense of belonging. Occupational therapy aids in educating your loved one, family, and caregivers on social inclusion resources, as well as finding different strategies that include verbal support and problem-solving. This therapy can help remove barriers of participation by promoting the understanding of how social engagement relates to overall good health.


According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada "there are an estimated 50, 000 people who sustain a stroke in Canada every year, or one every ten minutes" and "is the third leading cause of death in Canada".  Strokes can damage basic functions and abilities, and occupational therapy can help stroke survivors by focusing on improving daily activities, which can improve performance and reduce the possibility of deterioration of these abilities. OTs can assess your family member’s individual situation and recommend accommodations to their environment in order to improve participation at home and within the community.


Evidence proves that "older drivers have more collisions per kilometers driven than any other group". Unfortunately, senior drivers don't recover from their injuries as quickly as those under 65. Occupational therapy gives your family member the opportunity to have their driving evaluated and either develop safe-driving programs or help find alternative transportation, as well as recommend adapted equipment to ensure safe driving practice. "Occupational therapists believe that driving is a privilege, but mobility is a right".

End of Life Care

At the end-of-life care stage, occupational therapy values client-centered approaches that include customizing interventions to adapt to the client’s changing goals and varying needs. OT's "advocate for clients to die with dignity, free of pain, surrounded by their loved ones, in a setting of their choice". This therapy can help by supporting and educating clients, as well as you and any other assisting healthcare professionals, about the importance of continuous engagement in activities that your family member values. This can also help address daily activities and any stress or anxiety your loved one may be feeling.

There are many ways in which occupational therapy can be advantageous to your loved one by finding both physical and mental health solutions.

Visit Right at Home's Nursing & Therapy page to get in contact with someone about starting occupational therapy; and to learn more about Occupational Therapy check out the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists.
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