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Occupational Therapy and the Golden Years

You may be still be wondering what Occupational Therapy is, who needs it and how does it help? The answer is simple - occupations matter to everybody! But why is it SO beneficial for older adults?

Occupational Therapy (OT) is limitless, it can help and support anyone of any age, ability, disability or interest. Do not put OT in a box, do not exempt yourself from OT,. Instead: value who you are, what you are capable of, and always expect and reach for more (following a safety and risk assessment from an occupational therapist ;)). There's always more potential and opportunities to develop skills, increase occupational performance, satisfaction, meaning and purpose.

So, did you know that around 42% of older adults will experience disability? Meaning that disability could impede 1 in 2 people's ability to engage in activities, restrict their social participation and reduce their independence in activities of daily living (ADLs). Could those disabilities be prevented? Or instead of being a limitation, could those disabilities be used as a platform to try new things, experience new meanings and purposes, identity, roles, routines, productivity and increase overall occupational performance and satisfaction? OT is an innovative, creative, client-centred therapy which uses problem-solving, clinical reasoning and professional judgement to help prevent disability and maximise potential.

Older people thrive from social participation. Research suggests that our older generation value interaction and communication. Coming from a generation of no phones, no internet and no Facebook(!) - they value quality time, face-to-face interaction and fellowship. I've recently been reflecting on this through the afternoon tea outreach that we run at our church for people in their retirement, called 'The Well'. The vision behind 'The Well' was for people to come, get refreshed with a nice hot drink and a selection of food. We make the place look really pretty, comfortable and organise various games and entertainment throughout the afternoon. After several months of running the group, we realised that it was not the entertainment and food that people were coming for (although that is nice and an extra bonus!), but the social participation.

I also visit care homes with my little boy, and notice the power of social participation and interaction in those with Dementia. Just being in the same room as someone - not even talking - can help improve their mood, alertness, sense of purpose and feeling valued.

Social participation is the sense of feeling part of community, having a role to play, feeling valued, encouraged and appreciated. The occupation of 'being social' is a fundamental element to healthy living in our older generation. Without social participation, people are at risk of low mood, depression and anxiety. They can become physically de-conditioned in their skills as they are participating in activities less, or not at all. It also can lead to muscle wastage, fatigue and lethargy as people are getting outdoors less and therefore moving less, decreasing blood flow and clean oxygen supply. Disability does not have the right to do this!

Older adults have SO much wisdom and insight to share with the rest of the world. The senior years of life are golden. Proverb 16, from the bible says: 'gray hair is a crown of splendour; it is attained in the way of righteousness.' The 'golden years' is a season of life to rekindle gifts, learn new skills, share stories, reap wisdom, see families grow and to see breakthrough and restoration after years of hard work and battle. It is equally a time to rest and enjoy the finer things in life, without a responsibility of others or a job. It is time to enjoy an occupation (or more) outside of work!

Amongst various health professions, occupational therapists work on a holistic level to combine physical therapy, medicine, nutrition (and more!) to increase occupational performance in all areas of life. In my opinion, OT starts at home. If you can achieve your activities of daily living (ADLs) and maintain a standard level of independence at home, then you can participate in social activities, (and more!).

By using OT skills in an individual's home, the occupational therapist ('Independent Living Advisor') can break down tasks, offer practical advice and support to enable you to be able to complete those ADLs that may be becoming a struggle. Please note, home doesn't have to be a house to be a home! Home can still be in a residential home/hospice/wherever you live :). ADLs can include: transferring in/out of bed, getting on/off the toilet, getting in/out the bath/shower, washing, cooking, laundry, cleaning, gardening, the list goes on. What is important to you? Achieving independence and occupational satisfaction in those important ADLs in the home increases confidence, mood, meaning and purpose. In turn, achieving those occupations, encourages and enables one to engage in social participation.

'Social prescribing' is being piloted around the country for Occupational Therapists to prescribe social activity groups to individuals, assessed on a client-centred basis. It is proving to be saving the NHS money, saving money on medical prescriptions and GP appointment time, suggesting that social activities are important to health and should not be overlooked. You should not just treat a condition, but treat an individual person.

Having 'Independent Living Advice' at home, from a qualified occupational therapist, can help engage older adults back into community and improve their overall health and wellbeing.

Contact Gemma today and let Occupational Therapy help you or a loved one :).

Helpful links:

- Independent Living Advice

- Join a social activity group, visit your local village hall/community centre for more information. See more...

- Get in touch for information about local groups in Kempston/Bedford.

- What is Occupational Therapy?

Bedford United Kingdom MK43

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