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Occupational therapy helps older people stay at home

22nd July 2016

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

A multidisciplinary approach to health care is recognised as helping to reduce the numbers of hospital admissions amongst older patients, instead enabling people to stay independent and in the comfort of their own homes into later life.

There are steps we can take to make the home safer and easier to get around as we get older, whether this is opting for a rise and recline chair or installing lower shelves that are easier to reach. Now, it has been suggested that older NHS patients are benefiting from improved mobility as a result of occupational therapy at home.

As a growing ageing population requires support from already strained NHS resources, the independent Commission on Improving Urgent Care for Older People suggests that supporting older people away from hospitals is paramount.

In the report, Growing old together, the Commission advises: “A focus on wellbeing and, often, community support can help avoid an older person being admitted to hospital and preserve their independence in day-to-day living.”

Occupational therapy is one method of care that could benefit patients in their later years. Working alongside doctors and nurses, occupational therapy brings other health professionals together to form multidisciplinary teams capable of assessing a range of healthcare and wellbeing needs outside of the hospital.

The Commission has recommended this joined-up approach to providing older people with the medical help they need in their own community. Occupational therapists are able to operate from local surgeries and could even visit older patients at home. Introducing these health professionals from other backgrounds and disciplines to smaller surgeries would mean that a wider skillset is available on your doorstep.

GP and chair of the National Association of Primary Care, Dr Nav Chana explains: “If you look at it from an average jobbing GP’s perspective, there are not many using OTs’ skills directly within their practice teams, but we are trying to get people to live independently, to prevent hospital admissions and to make discharges work. All those things sit very squarely within occupational therapy’s remit.”

Occupational therapists are often trained to consider a wider range of methods that may help to improve the wellbeing of their patients and unlike doctors, for example, they are able to monitor patients over long periods of time.

As clinical lead of proactive care for South Worcestershire Clinical Commissioning Group, Dr Maggie Keeble says: “A GP will often be reactive, they will go in if there’s a problem and someone has fallen or got an infection. But they won’t necessarily be the best placed to see that if we can sort out aids and equipment at home, we can protect this person from deteriorating further. It’s not about keeping people out of hospital if they need to be there, but so often they don’t need to be in hospital.”

In a typical day, an occupational therapist may be involved helping their patients with a range of challenges. Whether it’s helping them with mobility equipment, tending to their medical needs or simply boosting morale, occupational therapy is about putting plans in place and addressing situations before they become a cause for concern.