Interview: Occupational Therapy in Nursing Homes

nursing homesLearn about the central role occupational therapy plays in nursing homes.

Interviewee: Irene Tipton
Contract Occupational Therapist
Seattle, WA

Nursing homes, whose halls are filled with nurses and aides bustling from room to room, are a main workplace for another type of healthcare worker. Occupational therapists (OTs) play a role at nearly every nursing home in the nation, providing elderly residents with adaptations and training that will help them thrive independently for as long as possible. They are found in many types of institutions, from hospitals and schools to rehabilitation centers and long-term care facilities, helping individuals along all points of the human lifespan.

Experience in Dozens of Nursing Homes

Nursing homes typically hire OTs for full-time work, but some work on a contractual basis, filling in for those on vacation or providing temporary assistance while a nursing home looks for a long term employee. Irene Tipton has been working as a contract occupational therapist for nearly 30 years, filling her weeks with rewarding assignments and experiencing the full range of occupational therapy, from surgical suites and psych wards to schools and nursing homes.

Throughout her three decades of service, Irene estimates that she has worked at about 40 different nursing homes or assisted living facilities throughout the greater Seattle area, spending up to about 6 months at each facility. Her wide range of experience makes her a fabulous candidate for providing unbiased information about residents' experiences of occupational therapists in nursing homes.

Occupational Therapy in Nursing Homes

While only about 10 percent of residents in long-term care facilities utilize occupational therapy on a regular basis, nearly all residents in transitory care units (or rehabilitation centers within nursing homes) have regular appointments with them. And with one OT seeing about eight patients per day, you can imagine how many are employed by larger nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities!

When Nursing Home Residents Need OT

Irene spends much of her time in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, helping residents through a number of physical changes as they age. Large physical disruptions caused by strokes, diabetes or high blood pressure call for OT treatment. She typically meets with a nursing home resident three to six times per week for two to four weeks after an injury, assessing his needs, prescribing special adaptive equipment, and training him on how to use it.

Residents in nursing homes who don't experience injuries or falls will often see OTs when new ambulatory needs are suspected. To that end, Irene commonly recommends new types of walkers or wheelchairs, and trains nursing aides how to best help with activities of daily living. She also recommends smaller eqipment such as "reachers," "sock aids," long shoe horns, "dressing sticks," raised toilet seats and bathtub benches that help elderly people with unsteady limbs or chronic pain function more independently.

The Benefits of OT in Nursing Homes

Irene says that the main benefit to nursing home residents who receive occupational therapy is a more independent life. Though residents in nursing homes may need significant help with activities of daily living, OTs provide them with the tools they need to maintain as much autonomy as possible. This happy balance of skilled nursing care and self care helps residents feel vigorous and capable even as their needs increase.

"As OTs, we see what we can do to get people to do what THEY have to do to get well and be independent!" This crux of OT in nursing homes keeps Irene busy from morning to night, meeting new patients and making as much of a difference as she can each day.

Find Nursing Homes with OT Care Near You

If this type of care sounds ideal for your loved one, you can start your journey today with personalized help from our experienced elder care advisors. Simply call the toll-free number above, and we'll help you narrow down a list of potential nursing homes in your area that will meet your loved one's needs. Our services are always free of charge with no strings attached. We're here to help educate you with nursing home information at our All About Nursing Homes and Family Resources sections. So learn about nursing homes, search nursing homes, or speak with an advisor today, so your loved one can get the help she needs tomorrow.