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5 Reasons You Might Need Occupational Therapy

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Graphic of OT and man doing therapy

Here's how this form of rehabilitation can help you live more independently.

Occupational therapy is a type of health care that may be less familiar to you than physical therapy. Some people think the two forms of therapy are the same, but although they are often prescribed in conjunction with one another, they each have a different purpose.

What is the difference between occupational and physical therapy?

Both types of therapy help people rehabilitate from an injury, surgery, pain, health condition or disability, but they vary in their focus. Physical therapy is designed to help patients improve how they move their body. Occupational therapy, on the other hand, helps patients improve how they perform activities of daily living.

What happens during occupational therapy?

Occupational therapists help people maintain their independence as they learn or relearn how to perform skills that are needed to get them through their day. From getting dressed and brushing teeth to eating food and using a computer, this type of therapy helps a person live more independently. Therapy may focus on adapting or changing how activities are performed, modifying the environment or teaching new skills so patients can perform activities in ways that are easier for them.

Why might you need occupational therapy?

There are many reasons why a person might benefit from occupational therapy. If you are struggling to perform everyday tasks due to an injury, illness or disability, occupational therapy may help. Here are some common reasons why people seek occupational therapy services:

  1. Stroke – This is a very common reason for people to see an occupational therapist. After a stroke, you may not be able to use part of your body like you once did or may experience balance, memory and speech issues. Occupational therapists help stroke patients adapt to their disabilities and learn new ways to do activities they used to perform.
  2. Poor vision or hearing – Occupational therapists can help a person compensate for diminished senses by suggesting ways to adapt their home and helping them come up with ways to perform activities in ways that take into account their disability.
  3. Dementia or Alzheimer's disease – Occupational therapy can help people who have cognitive issues and memory problems. This may be done by making modifications to the home, such as labeling cabinets to make it easier to find things. Occupational therapists may also develop stimulating activities to help a patient better communicate, engage and remember.
  4. Conditions that affect physical abilities – Anyone who has difficulty performing everyday tasks due to physical limitations may benefit from occupational therapy. This includes people who have cerebral palsy, joint replacement, cancer, chronic pain, balance issues or any other condition affecting the ability to perform everyday tasks easily, comfortably and successfully.
  5. Conditions that affect mental abilities – Occupational therapy is also beneficial for people who have mental limitations due to brain injuries, behavioral issues, mental health conditions or developmental delays. Therapy may focus on how to improve memory, communicate better, manage emotions, maintain positive relationships, cope with stressors and enjoy life more fully.

If you are having difficulty performing routine tasks, talk to your doctor about whether occupational therapy is right for you.

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Date Last Reviewed: February 20, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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