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The Dementia Care Specialist You Need to Know: Meet the Occupational Therapist
July 25, 2022

In the world of dementia care, most people are familiar with the role of their general practitioner and neurologist. These professionals provide vital care in the diagnosis and management of dementia symptoms. However, many families affected by Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia remain unaware of another kind of dementia care specialist: the occupational therapist (OT).

Occupational therapists with dementia care expertise “can help caregivers implement strategies,” states Dr. Laura Gitlin and Catherine Verrier, authors of A Caregiver’s Guide to Dementia. But what exactly do occupational therapists do? Here’s a real-life story to help paint the picture of what one of many approaches from an OT can look like.

The Beginning of Greater Support For Dementia Care

“I see it now! It makes more sense.” These are words that a care partner spoke after working with an occupational therapist that specializes in dementia care. 

Previously, this care partner had expressed concerns to their loved one’s physician regarding some seemingly small changes they’d noticed in their partner with dementia’s everyday activities. “She has a history of falls. She is getting up and walking unsafely because she cannot use a walker on her own. It is difficult to help her get out of her chair before mealtimes, and she is hardly eating anymore,” the care partner said.

Occupational Therapist (OT) With Dementia and Alzheimer's Care Expertise

By reporting this information to their physician, the care partner had unknowingly sparked the beginning of receiving enhanced support she didn’t know existed. Many of these challenges can be quite common for care partners and the person living with dementia, but occupational therapy can promote a bit more ease in their shared daily activities. In response to hearing these concerns and recognizing the progressive nature of dementia and increased risks for hospitalizations, the doctor referred the patient and their care partner to work with an occupational therapist. 

At their first meeting, the occupational therapist completed an initial assessment. Often, these assessments can last 60 minutes or more, as the occupational therapist works in collaboration with the person’s family and medical team. The OT evaluated the challenges, medical history, routines, and abilities of the individual with dementia.

Then, the OT obtained an occupational profile and assessed their environment to develop creative, just-right solutions for the person with dementia and their family. After the initial assessment, the OT wrote a plan of care to address specific goals and areas of concern and shared this plan with the physician. Because of the OT’s unique benefit of knowing both medical and disease processes, they were able to identify specific collaborative solutions accordingly, as well as measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely goals.

Identifying Unique Strategies To Manage Specific Challenges For People With Dementia

In order to carry out the individualized plan of care, the OT returned every week and began helping the care partner understand how different forms of dementia can present in daily living occupations, such as getting up from a chair or eating. Together, they tried different strategies that included how the care partner talks to the person with dementia (their tone, word choice, and non-verbal gestures) as well as techniques to examine the space within which the occupational challenges were occurring.

For example, when the OT identified that the person with dementia was very easily distracted while eating, the OT was able to determine the cause was simply due to the uniqueness of the location from which they sat to eat at the table. Additionally, during a skilled activity analysis over a lunch period, the OT identified that the person with dementia was unable to initiate the steps of eating, such as picking up the silverware, turning the plate, or scooping up bites. As a result, the occupational therapist tried sitting the person with dementia in a new, less distractible location, with their utensils in their hand.

After identifying successful solutions to help the person with dementia participate in eating more easily, it was observed that she ate more food. In this scenario, the problem wasn’t that the person with dementia didn’t want to eat. Instead, they simply needed specific help to do so. So, the OT taught the care partner how to apply these winning strategies through demonstration and role-playing.

Occupational Therapist (OT) With Dementia and Alzheimer's Care Expertise

Due to the OT’s uniqueness in dementia-specific care, the person with dementia and their care partner were able to find more relief, comfort, and compatibility in their daily activities. The OT emphasized the inclusion of both the person with dementia and their care partner and used her careful understanding of how intertwined the lived experience of dementia is to create positive changes in their shared routines. For the care partner, problem-solving challenges became easier when they “made sense.”

How Can I Connect With An Occupational Therapist With Dementia Expertise?

This is just one example of what sessions with an OT with dementia care expertise can do to help a person living with dementia and their care partner experience a higher quality of life. An OT with dementia-related expertise may also be helpful to you and your family if you find yourself:

  • Wondering what level of expectations are realistic to expect from a loved one who is experiencing dementia

  • Unsure of how to plan a day, week, or vacation when things are not as predictable as they once were

  • Determining the possibility to live in place AT HOME throughout all the stages of life, versus knowing if a move is needed

  • Struggling to find successful strategies to communicate with your loved one, especially amidst activities of daily living (i.e., dressing, brushing teeth, showering, eating, getting in the car, etc.)

  • Having difficulty adapting to the new changes that living with dementia can bring

  • Desiring more support based on evidence of what’s worked for others

Do you have other questions or scenarios you’d like to see answered in future articles? Reach out to Oakwood’s own Occupational Therapist with Dementia Expertise, Monika!

Email her today:

monika@oakwoodcreativecare.org

Through Oakwood Creative Care’s Dementia HUB in Mesa, Arizona, care partners can find answers to these questions and assistance from occupational therapists with dementia experience through our COPE Dementia Coaching Sessions. This program is based on the evidence from the COPE Model and allows care partners to work with a COPE-trained occupational therapist to implement innovative and evidence-based strategies that address dementia-specific challenges at home.

Ready To Get Started?

Ask your loved one’s physician* to send orders for occupational therapy to Oakwood Creative Care by faxing them to 480-464-1166. Then, call us at 480-361-9791 to begin our initial intake process or fill out the form below to have a member of our clinical care team reach out! 

*Physician referrals are not necessary for private pay options. 

Meet the Occupational Therapist (OT) For Dementia Care

Welcome

We're a nonprofit organization based in Mesa, Arizona with three senior day club locations (and a fourth on the way) which serve older adults with Alzheimer's, dementia, Parkinson's, and various other physical or cognitive challenges. Life does not end with a diagnosis. Our members continue to learn new skills, enjoy new discoveries, make friends, laugh, and live a joy-filled life. Our team of dementia experts lead support groups, events, classes, and private sessions with caregivers and families, guiding them on the best methods to care for their loved ones while also caring for themselves.


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