Pretoria, 3 February 2021: Occupational therapy has endless benefits for the elderly. As we age, the body and mind no longer work the way they used to. Ageing is an inevitable fate for those of us lucky enough to see old age, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. Still, there is a way to slow it perhaps down and allow the elderly to regain some of those skills – allowing them to regain some of their independence and still lead a fulfilling life.
“The benefits of occupational therapy can be seen almost instantly,” says Jan Heystek, CEO of Fleurenville Aged Care Centre in Pretoria. “From when our residents meet with our occupational therapist for the first time, they are given hope which does wonders for their outlook on life. Losing their independence is a difficult process for the elderly; it’s hard for them to allow someone to feed them or help them use the bathroom because they have lost the ability to do these things. But when they start doing occupational therapy regularly, they start to relearn these basic and fine motor skills and start to learn how to do things on their own again. At Fleurenville, helping our people attain the best quality of life that they can is of utmost importance to us and having an occupational therapist that comes to work with our residents regularly is one of the ways that we do that.”
Occupational therapy (OT) is done in a series of specially designed activities for people at all stages of life to develop, maintain or recover skills needed to complete daily activities (or occupations). OT can range from physical activities such as exercises to develop fine and basic motor skills, balance, flexibility and strength to mental activities such as games and puzzles to improve memory, concentration and mental wellbeing. OT can be done in one-on-one sessions or groups. The activities and tasks that the occupational therapist will do differ greatly depending on the desired outcome or goal of the therapy.
One of the most significant differences that OT can make in an elderly patient’s life is to help them relearn and develop some of the basic skills they have lost. Elderly patients start to lose fine motor skills and tasks such as eating, cooking, cleaning and even the most basic of daily tasks such as brushing their teeth become impossible to do independently. This dependency leaves them feeling frustrated, angry and ashamed. They will often give up and begin to avoid doing the task altogether. Giving up leads to personal care issues, where they might stop bathing and cleaning themselves, or lose weight because eating is too difficult. Occupational therapy can help the elderly learn these skills and strengthen the muscles needed to perform daily activities.
An occupational therapist can also help the elderly regain some of the cognitive abilities that decline with age. Through different puzzles, games and other mental exercises, their memory and reasoning abilities can be strengthened. It is an emotionally difficult process for elderly patients to accept that their mind is no longer what it used to be. They struggle to remember things that are important to them, and they get frustrated with themselves. Improving their memory, concentration, reasoning abilities, and logical thinking helps them feel more positive about themselves and improves their quality of life.
An occupational therapist can also give elderly patients someone to confide in and talk about difficult things. Elderly patients sometimes don’t want to burden their family members with their problems or are too ashamed or embarrassed to tell them about personal issues they may be having. An occupational therapist is a professional who has not only seen and heard it all, but they may even have the solution to their problems. A problem shared is a problem halved and merely having someone to confide in about their personal or embarrassing issues that they feel they can’t tell anyone else makes a big difference to an elderly patient’s positivity.
Fleurenville, Aged Care Centre, has a dedicated occupational therapist who works with their residents a few times a week. The OT works with different groups of residents to improve their quality of life in all areas and understand their needs to design programs to maximise the benefits of occupational therapy for the residents. Jan says, “Our OT is committed to ensuring that our residents reap the maximum benefits from the sessions, but that they also have fun while doing it. Residents look forward to the sessions, and many consider her to be more of a friend than a therapist.”