4 Things Occupational Therapists Should Know About Caring For Paraplegics

March 9, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy

Occupational therapists work with people from all walks of life, and with a wide range of conditions. Virtually anyone who, because of an accident, illness, or for any reason, can’t adequately perform all the activities they want or need to, is likely to benefit from occupational therapy. It could be a child who simply can’t do everything that the other kids at school are able to do, someone recovering from a fractured bone, or more severe situations involving permanent loss of mobility. Some of the most challenging cases will involve working with patients with some form of paralysis. Here are some of the things all occupational therapists should know regarding the care of paraplegics or quadriplegics. Much of this will be valuable to other caregivers as well.

1. Not all paraplegics are the same.

 This sounds a little obvious, but it should be kept in mind that there are different types of paraplegia: complete and incomplete. Some patients still have partial use of their legs, while others have none. Their needs are going to be very different in some ways, as will the plan you develop for each.

 2. It’s not just about their bodies

 As you know, paraplegia is a physical condition. Damage to the spinal cord prevents proper body functioning below the level of the injury. But there are also psychological and emotional ramifications. There’s no easy transition from being completely functional one day to losing the ability to do much of one’s routines and activities the next day. Anxiety, depression, and despair among patients who are paraplegics are not uncommon. You’ll need to help them deal with these issues as well.

 3. Skin problems are very common

 For those who lose mobility, there is the risk of additional complications from being bedridden or confined to a wheelchair for most of their time. Among the most common symptoms that may develop are decubitus ulcers, also known as pressure injuries or bed sores. These occur most often when the patient sits or lies too long with pressure on a bony area of their body. When the skin is already weakened, and perhaps further stressed by bladder or bowel accidents, even small movements can cause cuts and scratches. Patients need to be moved at regular intervals, and taught the best ways to move so as to avoid keeping pressure on the same area for too long.

 4. You’re in it for the long haul

 Spinal cord injuries don’t heal. Unlike the patient with a broken bone, a paraplegic is not going to regain the use of their legs. It’s going to be a major paradigm shift as they come to see the rest of their life in a different light. As an occupational therapist, you’re going to be the focal point for coordinating the adaptations that they’ll need to make in order to lead a fulfilling life again.

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