Occupational Therapists Help Patients Improve Independence with Daily Living Activities
The goal is to enhance quality of life for patients.
By Karla Knuth, MS, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist, Shepherd Center
Occupational therapists at Shepherd Center exemplify what it means to help people “Live Life to Its Fullest” following brain or spinal cord injury.
This phrase continues to be the American Occupational Therapy Association’s meaningful motto to describe the profession and what occupational therapists (OTs) help people accomplish. This motto reminds individuals that improvement in function and quality of life is possible, and goals are attainable, especially when combined with remarkable rehabilitation, appropriate resources and support.
At Shepherd Center, patients receive therapy and medical care through an interdisciplinary approach. Occupational therapists – together with physicians, physical therapists, speech therapists, recreational therapists, case managers and other professionals –help individuals rebuild their lives following a temporary or permanent disability. Throughout a patient’s rehabilitation stay, OTs provide individualized therapy to patients so they can adapt and continue to live life with dignity and the maximum amount of independence that is possible for them.
Following a brain and/or spinal cord injury, OTs work directly with patients and their family members to create meaningful and attainable goals to work towards during their inpatient stay. These goals are typically centered around improving participation and independence with activities of daily living (ADLs), improving visual deficits, strengthening weakened muscles, improving posture and positioning, and/or promoting engagement in instrumental ADLs (e.g., cooking, money management, housekeeping).
Occupational therapists create optimal opportunities for patients to learn new ways to facilitate independence and practice these adaptive techniques to achieve their goals and further improve their overall quality of life. Patients achieve their goals by engaging in functional tasks and therapeutic activities in a one-on-one or small group setting with a therapist.
Working on the Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Unit as an OT at Shepherd Center is challenging, yet extremely rewarding. We combine clinical skills along with creativity to provide the best environment and therapeutic care for our patients. We witness individuals emerge from semi-comatose states, regain motor function following a stroke or brain injury, acquire the skills needed to complete ADLs, self-propel their wheelchair or ambulate, and develop the skills necessary to reintegrate themselves into the community.
We educate families so they can provide assistance to further facilitate their loved one’s progress. Additionally, we provide necessary resources and instruction so families can modify their home to make it accessible and safe.
A typical day on the Acquired Brain Injury Unit for a patient includes participation in self-care tasks, engaging in meals in the therapy gym to promote the ability to self-feed and the opportunity to socialize with other patients and/or family, and participating in at least three hours of therapy with occasional breaks.
Patients will engage in one-on-one, co-treatment and/or small group sessions with occupational, physical, speech and recreation therapists. Occupational therapy intervention during sessions can include activities involving self-care, positioning, vision or visual perceptual tasks, strengthening exercises, fine and gross motor activities, and higher-level cognitive activities, such as route navigation, money management and meal preparation.
On the ABI Unit, there is a transitional living apartment (TLA), which includes a fully functional kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom. Often, OTs will assess a patient’s independence and safety using familiar or novel activities while in the TLA. These activities include cooking, washing dishes, loading the dishwasher, making the bed or identifying potential safety hazards in the home.
As an occupational therapist at Shepherd Center, I believe the sky is our limit because the hospital offers a wide array of resources and opportunities so OTs can better help individuals reach their goals and ultimately improve their quality of life and independence following a devastating event.
Karla Knuth is an occupational therapist in Shepherd Center’s Acquired Brain Injury Unit. She graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina in 2012. While in graduate school, she developed a special interest in neurology and worked closely with one of her professors to research the development of movement patterns following stroke. She examined how rehabilitation could improve a patient’s upper-extremity movement. While finishing her degree, Knuth was able to complete her final clinical rotation at Shepherd Center. After the rotation, she joined the staff at the hospital.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.