Teaching Independence by Panhandle Health District, Home Health Division“
It takes three days of doing something for an Alzheimer’s patient before they have learned self- helplessness,” says Brionn Tripp, an occupational therapist who contracts with Panhandle Health District’s Home Health program. People with advancing dementia have to perform tasks in sequence. “You can’t teach patients a new way or a new process. They’ll do it the way they’ve always done it or not at all.” says Brionn.
An OT (Occupational Therapist) enables people who have been set back by surgeries, strokes, Parkinson’s disease, dementia and more to perform the daily activities that allow them independence. They help patients to regain the ability to complete regular everyday tasks while also helping others find new ways to overcome physical limitations. The tasks addressed cover everything people do–activities of daily living (ADL’s) such as bathing/showering, dressing, grooming, shaving, cooking, cleaning, writing, eating and more. OT’s help people with Parkinson’s tremors get food from their dinner plate into their mouths. They may suggest using weighted utensils or scooping food with bread in one hand onto a spoon with the other hand.
Occupational Therapists also help to educate family and caregivers to understand and recognize the patient’s progress. Few are aware, in later stages of dementia, that patients need about 90 seconds to process a question someone asks them. Most people don’t realize that this 90 seconds is crucial and while it can seem like an eternity, it is very much needed for the patients. People may assume they’re not getting an answer and move on, but remember patience is a virtue and that someone with dementia may take a little longer to process the information.
The more we learn, the more we want to learn when working in this field. Therapists have learned to teach Parkinson’s patients to stretch so their muscles don’t atrophy and to work with their current abilities to prolong them. Also that the minds of later stage dementia patients revolve around their mid-20’s to 30’s. Life is easier for them if family can organize their bedroom as it was when they were in their mid-30’s or if spouses can remember the sequence in which they have dressed their entire adult life.
People in the late stages of dementia are not helpless. It’s important for OTs to stay up on education and with the new techniques and continue to learn new ways to help patients and family members learn to work together. Spouses have a hard time knowing when to help or not. A therapist can push patients and save the family some hard feelings toward one another.
“I think all therapy should be in the home,” says Brionn. “That’s what they know, where they’re familiar. They don’t have to transition what they learn in a rehab facility to their homes.” The moments that give patients a sense of independence is why many Occupational Therapists began working in this field. Therapy gives back the dignity that men and women need as they age.
Occupational therapy like physical and speech therapy are available to home health patients through a doctor’s order. Panhandle Home Health teams may also include a speech therapist, physical therapist, registered nurse and CNA. For more information on Panhandle Home Health’s therapy services, visit www.phd1.idaho.gov/homehealth/homecare/therapy or call (208) 415-5160.