Occupational Therapy for Wheelchair Users

March 30, 2016 | 8:00 am | By Pants Up Easy

For someone who has suffered a spinal cord injury (SCI), it’s not likely that life will ever be the same as it was before their injury. The person may have been healthy and strong one day. But an accident or an illness that affects the spinal cord becomes a complete game-changer. Now, activities that were easy, and done without even thinking about them become challenging or even impossible for a person who has lost the use of their legs. Fortunately occupational therapy can help wheelchair users learn regain as much as possible of their ability to function, and thus lead a more rewarding and meaningful life.

  • What is Occupational Therapy?

The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA) defines occupational therapy as a practice which helps people “participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations). The people they help come from all walks of life, and may be suffering from a wide range of illness or symptoms. But they all have one thing in common: for some reason, they’re not able to successfully accomplish the life activities that they need to.

  • How Does Occupational Therapy Help Wheelchair Users?

Occupational therapy can be a long-term process. Particularly in the case of patients suffering paralysis there’s no fix or cure in sight. The work of the occupational therapist is mainly to help the patient learn new skills, as well as how to apply those skills in their activities. They also help the wheelchair user and their loved ones by making recommendations of modifications to their environment which will facilitate greater mobility and independence.

Among the support that occupational therapists can provide are the following:

  • Education

An occupational therapist in many ways takes on the role of teacher. When working with a paraplegic patient, there are a multitude of new skills to learn. Formerly simple tasks like dressing, eating, bathing and going to the bathroom are just not like they used to be, and there will be a learning curve. OT can help the patient re-learn how to do these fundamental tasks.

  • Environmental Modifications

Another area in which occupational therapists can provide tremendous value is in helping make changes to the patient’s environment. This of course refers to their home, but can also include their workplace or school. Some of the modifications that can really make life easier and less frustrating or dangerous for a wheelchair user include: installation of wheelchair-friendly ramps in place of steps, support bars in various strategic locations, and remodeled showers for smoother and safer access.

  • Equipment Recommendations

There are numerous devices which can help make life easier for wheelchair users. And since everyone’s case is somewhat unique, it helps to have a professional who can assess the situation, and recommend the most effective equipment for the job. Electrical beds help allow for more comfort as well as easier transfer in and out of the bed. Transfer boards and a variety of lifting devices, including some designed specifically to facilitate independent dressing can really help the patient achieve more autonomy in their daily routines.

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