• Understanding the Role of Occupational Therapy in End of Life Care

    April 2, 2019 | Blog
  • Many families understand how therapy can assist loved ones as they recover from an acute condition, such as falling or having a stroke. Occupational therapy is also an important part of continuous care for clients with a chronic illness or who are nearing the end of life.

    Benefits of Occupational Therapy

    “Occupations” are things people want to do, need to do, or are expected to do in daily life, including self-care, leisure, socializing, and more. Individuals with life-altering illnesses or who are nearing the end of life often have difficulty participating in these activities because of changes in their physical or mental abilities.

    Occupational therapy helps people participate in purposeful or meaningful tasks in ways that accommodate the changes in their bodies and minds caused by normal aging or progressive illness.

    For example, if a client who enjoyed cooking is no longer able to, they might tell a caregiver or family member how to prepare a favorite recipe instead. Passing on knowledge this way can be satisfying.

    Engaging in meaningful occupations can help with symptom management. If a client is unable to lay down due to pain or difficulty breathing, a therapist might identify a supported sitting position in bed that will relieve pain or ease breathing, enabling the client to write letters or read a book. When clients are focused on meaningful occupations, they may pay less attention to physical symptoms.

    Addressing End-Of-Life Challenges

    At the end of life, occupational therapy is used to modify the demands of routines and occupations to match the client’s desires and medical status. For example, if a client refuses medication due to concern that side effects like confusion or slurred speech will scare grandchildren, an occupational therapist might recommend an alternative medication schedule to accommodate visits. This adjustment reduces the client’s anxiety and helps them enjoy connections with family. In another case, a client may prefer to be dressed by a caregiver, so he or she can conserve energy for recording memories to pass down.

    Although body systems and skills may deteriorate near the end of life, occupational therapy interventions can support a client’s ability to maintain relationships and participate in activities. Relaxation techniques and energy conservation strategies can help clients have meaningful interactions. Optimal positioning and mobility devices may be used to increase comfort and safety, while decreasing risk for pressure sores.

    Having choices can also provide a sense of control during the dying process. For example, while a patient may need to be fed or dressed, it may be helpful to offer a choice between two options of what to eat or wear. Continuing important rituals of everyday activity can support meaningfulness in the dying person’s final days.

    Supporting Caregivers and Families

    Occupational therapy can target caregivers and families, too. In some cases, it may be most beneficial to focus on support for the challenges families face. Occupational therapists can assist with various issues, including safe methods to facilitate transfers or re-positioning, as well as coping strategies for handling difficult behaviors. Sharing tips to find meaningful opportunities for interactions with a loved one despite their own grief or frustration might also be helpful.

    The ultimate outcome of end-of-life care is supporting quality of life for clients and families. Occupational therapy plays a key role in achieving those goals. Paradigm Health offers an Occupational Therapy program with individualized evaluations so your loved ones receive the care they need. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you and your loved ones through home health, palliative or hospice care.