What They Don’t Teach You In OT School
Theresa Davis is an independent contractor who provides occupational therapy services for BRG clients, as well as through other providers in Maryland. Theresa has spent the majority of her career working the older client. She has such great insight into the benefit of occupational therapy in the home health setting.
After working in various settings for 20 plus years as an Occupational Therapist, the one thing I have learned is the importance of being patient, caring and loving with our elderly residents.
There is so much we can teach our patients about being stronger, improving their endurance, increasing their hand dexterity, dressing themselves with less assistance, learning to walk better to use their bathrooms, etc… However there is so much they can teach us as well.
They teach us to listen better, to be empathetic and understand all the troubles they are having. This in turn allows us to find the best ways to motivate them. The most important thing to most of them is that we care and that we are there to “listen” to them. As therapists, we sometimes undervalue our role and the importance of “touch” for this population. For many of them, they have been placed in a facility against their choosing in which their families either can’t or don’t come to see them, leaving them to feel both empty and abandoned. I have to come to realize over the last several years the vast importance of empathy, hugs, smiles, asking how their day is going, and just providing the acknowledgement that I care about them and am invested in their well being. Even the residents that are not being seen by therapy services in a senior living setting still benefit from the acknowledgement and caring attitudes we give them. We have several residents that come into our clinic just to be around us and talk.
Additionally, we need to help bridge the gap between the overworked caregivers- who may not understand the disease process of the cognitively impaired- and the residents who need so much more than basic care. This population needs additional love, touch and empathy, even when their minds and bodies are failing them. They can still understand a smile, a hug, and positive body language. So, sometimes when we feel frustrated because the physical progress may not be as aggressive as we would like, we need to remember the positive impact we are having on our residents in other ways to improve their well being.