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Exercise and the Senior Citizen
Safety at Home
The Facts About Occupational Therapy

The Rehabilitation Team:
What Role Do They Have in a Nursing Home


Barbara Devine
Residents of a nursing home are admitted for long-term or short-term stays. The Rehabilitation Department of the nursing home strives to serve all of the residents, in obtaining the highest level of functional independence possible. There are three disciplines included in the Rehabilitation Department: Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Speech/Language Therapy.

Rehabilitation is the process of returning an individual to the highest level of functional independence following an expected or unexpected trauma that results in a disability of a temporary or permanent nature. On a day-to-day basis we perform many activities that are routine to us. These activities include, but are not limited to: walking, bathing, eating, reading, talking and cooking. When a elderly person suffers a trauma, performance of these routine activities becomes more difficult, or impossible. It is the focus of those who rehabilitate, to teach the individuals how to adapt to the changes they will have in their lives, and how to best perform that task again safely, skillfully, and with confidence.

What is Physical Therapy?

A Physical Therapist is a graduate of a four or five year accredited program, and has either a Bachelors or Masters Degree in Physical Therapy. He or she must also pass a licensing examination prior to practicing. A graduate of a two-year program, a Physical Therapist Assistant, must also pass a licensing exam prior to practicing under the supervision of a Licensed Physical Therapist.

Physical Therapy is the re-education of human movement and function through exercise, muscle re-education and repetition. Activities that are the focus of Physical Therapy are: walking with or without the assistance of a device such as a walker or cane, climbing up and down stairs with and/or without a railing, getting oneself into and out of bed, rolling side to side while in bed, transferring into and out of a bed, chair, car and wheelchair, and improving balance both in standing and sitting.

What is Occupational Therapy?

The educational background of an Occupational Therapist is similar to those of a Physical Therapist. They too are required to pass examinations prior to practicing. They are best known as Occupational Therapist Registered/Licensed, OTR/L, and Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant, COTA.

It is the role of an Occupational Therapist to evaluate and treat a person in the performance of activities that we do on a daily basis such as bathing, grooming, dressing, getting on and off of a toilet, and preparing a small snack or meal. These activities are referred to as activities of daily living, or ADL's. Often times, following a trauma, these tasks can only be performed with the assistance of adaptive equipment. Instrumental Activities of Daily Living, IADL's, are more complex tasks that involve complex thinking and problem solving abilities. These tasks include, but are not limited to, financial strategies such as checkbook management, menu preparation, grocery shopping, and household budgets.

What is Speech Therapy?

Speech and Language Pathologists, SLP/CCC, undergo rigorous schooling and clinical practicums prior to practicing their professions. After graduating from a four-year program, he/she enters a Masters level program specific for Speech-Language Pathology, followed by a national examination.

The services that a Speech-Language Pathologist provides to those in a "rehabilitation" program may include the evaluation and treatment of the individual who has difficulty talking, reading and writing. Patients who have difficulty swallowing are evaluated and treated, following a Modified Barium Swallow, or otherwise called a MBS. This evaluation is generally performed in a hospital setting on an out-patient basis. Patients who have a hearing loss can be treated by an SLP. Those who may have short and /or long-term memory loss or confusion can be instructed in compensatory strategies' that will help them to lead a safer, and more fulfilling life.

Photo by Jan Cunning Photography

American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.
The American Occupational Therapy Association is a national professional society that advances the quality, availability, use and support of occupational therapy through standard setting, advocacy, education and research on behalf of its members and the public through early intervention, schools, work sites, ergonomics, home modification, accessibility enhancements, driving assessments, vision loss, and work to overcome or compensate for other disabilities.
American Occupational Therapy Foundation
The Institute for the Study of Occupation and Health's website. AOTF advances the quality, availability, use, and support of occupational therapy through standard-setting, advocacy, education, and research on behalf of its members and the public.
American Physical Therapy Association
This web site contains information of use to section members, other physical therapists, geriatric clients and their families, those considering a career in physical therapy and anyone concerned with healthcare issues for older individuals.


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