The cancer care team: Occupational therapist

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An occupational therapist can help you with everyday tasks at home and at school. Find out why occupational therapy is important and why you might need it as part of your recovery.

Key points

  • Occupational therapists help you improve your ability to perform everyday tasks such as eating, climbing stairs and self-care activities.
  • Occupational therapists will assess your abilities and make recommendations to help you with your daily tasks, including activity recommendations and assistive devices.

What is an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapy is treatment to help you do everyday tasks, whether at home, at school or at work. An occupational therapist assesses, educates and offers recommendations for people with cancer and other medical conditions. They can help you to improve your ability to perform everyday tasks and help you find ways to continue to do the things you enjoy.

Occupational therapists are trained to evaluate performance and help you function as well as possible in everyday tasks by considering your motor skills (such as your co-ordination), sensory functions, and thinking skills. For example, they may recommend assistive devices—special aids that make it easier to do certain tasks like walking or hearing.

An occupational therapist may be part of the health-care team that you see frequently. Often, occupational therapists work together with physiotherapists and speech therapists as a rehabilitation team.

How can an occupational therapist help me?

Sometimes, cancer or treatment can make it hard for you to do the simple things you used to do before, such as getting dressed, climbing stairs, or eating. An occupational therapist can help you adapt to changes in your abilities and be more independent.

The occupational therapist will discuss your goals so that they can provide therapy focused on the things that matter to you. The therapy may include working on challenges related to your body, activities, or the environment.

Some of the different things an occupational therapist can help with include:

  • self-care activities such as dressing and grooming
  • school or work skills such as writing, typing, organizing, or memorizing things
  • leisure activities such as reading or playing computer games
  • home safety evaluations, to see if any changes are needed in your home to make it safer for you
  • assistive devices such as walking aids or special tools to open jars or cans
  • equipment such as wheelchairs
  • splinting (supporting or bracing) your joints to help you maintain movement
  • energy conservation (saving your energy) to make sure you don’t tire yourself out too easily
  • swallowing difficulties and feeding skills (with the help of a speech-language pathologist)

Occupational therapists may work with you in the hospital, at a rehabilitation centre, at home or at school. If you are working with an occupational therapist in the hospital they will help to organize follow-up therapy if you need it. The occupational therapist will assess your abilities and needs regularly while you are working with them.

If you feel that an occupational therapist can help you, you or your family can ask your health-care team to recommend one.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019