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Occupational Therapy and Parkinson’s: Another Tool for Your Tool Kit

Written by Dr. Michael Braitsch PT, DPT  via August 2023 Newsletter


People with Parkinson Disease often hear about the value of exercise as well as skilled rehab experts  in fighting symptoms all the time. Many are well-versed in ways that a Physical Therapist can help  them (balance, walking, strength, and biomechanics), but did you know that Occupational Therapy  can play a major role in living well despite a Parkinson diagnosis? This blog entry aims to provide an  overview of occupational therapy, its methodologies, and the benefits it offers to people with  Parkinson's disease. 

Let’s start with what Occupational Therapy OT) is - OT is commonly mistaken as a way to improve  one’s ability to work! In reality, OT is a complex field in healthcare that focuses on helping people  improve their ability to engage in meaningful activities (yes, even if you are retired or not working) that  support their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Occupational therapists (OTs) work with  people of all ages and diverse health conditions, including Parkinson's disease, to promote  independence, improve functional abilities, modify tasks, modify the environment in which a task must  be performed, and enhance overall quality of life. 




Occupational Therapists Assist People with Parkinson's Disease by: 

Assessing Individual Needs: OTs conduct comprehensive assessments to evaluate an individual's  physical, cognitive, and psychosocial abilities, as well as environmental factors and their personal  goals. This evaluation guides the development of personalized treatment plans (plans that are usually  covered by insurance or Medicare!) 

Developing Strategies for Daily Activities: OTs work closely with individuals with PD to address  challenges related to self-care, mobility, and household tasks. They employ a range of strategies and  adaptive techniques to optimize independence and safety, such as recommending modifications to the  task, the environment, practicing skills related to a task, or recommending assistive devices that help. 

Improving Motor Skills and Coordination: OTs utilize evidence-based approaches, such as exercise  programs, fine motor training, and coordination exercises to help individuals with PD improve their  motor skills. These interventions can assist with activities like dressing, eating, writing, and grooming. 

Enhancing Cognitive Abilities: Parkinson's disease can also affect cognitive functions, including  memory, attention, and executive functions. Occupational therapists employ cognitive training  techniques to help individuals manage these challenges, improve cognitive skills, and promote mental  well-being. 

Addressing Emotional and Psychosocial Needs: OTs play a crucial role in supporting the emotional  well-being of individuals with Parkinson's disease. They provide encouragement, education, and coping  strategies to manage anxiety, depression, and stress often associated with the condition. 




People with Parkinson’s Benefit from Occupational Therapy through interventions that target: 

  • Improved Quality of Life: By addressing the physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges  associated with PD, occupational therapy helps individuals enhance their overall quality of life and  maximize independence in daily activities through targeted interventions for skill development and/or  activity modification. 

  • Enhanced Functional Abilities: Through targeted interventions, OTs help individuals improve their  motor skills, coordination, and cognitive functions, enabling them to engage more effectively in  essential activities of daily living. 

  • Increased Safety and Fall Prevention: Occupational therapists often provide recommendations for  home modifications and assistive devices that reduce fall risks and enhance safety within the home  environment. 



Several signs and symptoms may indicate a need for occupational therapy intervention in individuals  with Parkinson's disease including: 

  • Difficulties with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs): Challenges in performing self-care tasks such as  dressing (buttons, zippers, and more), bathing, grooming (especially shaving), or eating independently  may indicate a need for OT assistance. 

  • Decreased Mobility and Balance: Persistent issues with walking, balance, and coordination that  hinder daily functioning can benefit from both OT and PT interventions aimed at improving these skills.

  • Cognitive Decline and Mental Health Challenges: Increasing difficulties with memory, attention,  problem-solving, and emotional well-being can be addressed through OT's cognitive training and  psychosocial support. 

  • Conclusion: Just like having a Physical Therapist on your team is crucial, an OT is another fantastic  member of your team in living with PD. These two types of healthcare practitioners can partner to  better address a wide range of physical, cognitive, and psychosocial challenges. OTs play a  significant role in improving safety, maximizing quality of life, enhancing functional abilities, and  promoting independence. Recognizing the signs that indicate a need for occupational therapy can  lead to timely intervention and improved outcomes for individuals with Parkinson's disease. 

References: 

1. Magennis K, Paterson G, Stevenson N, McClean B. Parkinson's Disease: Occupational Therapy's Role in Assessment and  Management. Br J Occup Ther. 2019;82(5):286-294. doi: 10.1177/0308022619829992 

2. Pavão SL, Guerra R, Lima RM, et al. Occupational Therapy Interventions for People with Parkinson's Disease. Cochrane  Database Syst Rev. 2013;(6):CD002813. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002813.pub2 

3. Shah S, Harding K, Goudie C, et al. Occupational Therapy Interventions for People with Parkinson's Disease. Cochrane  Database Syst Rev. 2016;(10):CD002813. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002813.pub3 


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