So, what does Occupational Therapy look like in Residential Aged Care?

So, what does Occupational Therapy look like in Residential Aged Care?

By Sam Shannahan

What a great question! If you had asked me at the end of last year it would have been quite a different answer. The pandemic has created a new kind of normal for life as an OT. Covid-19 has certainly influenced many allied health professional roles, with many roles switching to telehealth or even AHPs being made redundant. Thankfully for OT’s in residential aged care our role is more important than ever!

Along with a pandemic there has been some minor changes to processes. Hand hygiene and infection control has been ramped up. Strategies to reduce the risks include increased access to hand washing stations, temperature checks, health questionnaires prior to attending work, and health screening completed if calling in sick. Some staff are asked to change into their uniform at work to reduce the risk. Others are asked to work at one facility only. These minor changes have been embraced by all our staff, it’s not only protecting our elderly population, but also protecting us and our loved ones.

The biggest change however is the realisation of the importance of Occupational Therapy in Aged Care and appreciation of our role.

In Aged Care our predominant role is to assist with pain management. We complete treatment sessions focusing on reducing an elderly person’s pain so they can continue to participate in meaningful activities. OT’s are the perfect people for this role as we know pain is not just physical. Occupational Therapists look at the whole person and we can delve into what may be causing/enhancing their current pain experiences.

Due to Covid-19 many of our facilities have reduced visitor access and cancelled/reduced lifestyle activities. This has had a dramatic effect on our consumers and in turn these psychosocial and emotional factors are causing increased pain, increased behaviours and cognitive decline. Consumers are feeling lonely and isolated due to restrictions. Consumers are expressing feelings of anxiety towards the unknown, fear of leaving their rooms, depression, anger towards restrictions, and confusion related to change in routine.

We as OT’s can consider these factors and determine ways to assist in improving mood, which will contribute to reducing the consumers perception of pain. 

Erin walking around the facility with her clients in Geelong.

HCA therapists have adopted some of the following strategies to assist with pain management:

  • Assist residents to Facetime/Zoom with their families and friends
  • Complete individual meaningful activities that they previously completed in a group setting including bingo, card games, artwork, crosswords, puzzles etc.
  • Reminisce with consumers by going through family photos/discussing their previous career/what it was like growing up.
  • Chat about topics other than Covid-19. For example, what you’ve been cooking/what they used to cook/their specialties/favourite recipes.
  • Show live animal cams available online at various Zoos. Discuss the good news stories!
  • Short walks to see the garden, flowers and to get some sunlight.
  • Run one on one exercise sessions using available equipment
  • I’ve been showing residents progress pictures of my crochet projects
  • Assist tech savvy residents to download apps addressing their interests. One of our OT’s found an app to track kilometres walked after a resident expressed concern about not being able to do his daily walk to the shops.

At HCA we are fortunate that our role is not only considered essential but is extremely imperative in maintaining and improving the health and wellbeing of the elderly population during this time. Each day I go home knowing I have made a difference, and it’s the greatest feeling!

What are you looking for in your Occupational Therapy or Allied Health career?

For more information on what your career with HCA would look like, get in touch with us at 1300 952 433 or email: people.alliedhealth@healthcareaustralia.com.au today!


Brooke

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