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While some dismiss the idea of occupational therapy in favor of other treatment options like physical therapy, the truth is that a lot of multiple sclerosis patients benefit more from OT.

Patients with multiple sclerosis need assistance from a number of different avenues. While the symptoms may not initially seem to pose a problem, over time, this disease could begin to negatively impact having a full, successful life. Aside from the physical problems that arise from the damage the immune system does to the central nervous system in multiple sclerosis, there are also confidence problems as well as other emotional and mental impairments.

One way the medical field combats this is with occupational therapy. This, among several other rehabilitation and therapeutic efforts, can help patients suffering from MS find ways to cope with symptoms and live a full, quality life. What is occupational therapy, and how can it help treat multiple sclerosis?

What is occupation therapy?

Occupational therapy, or OT, is the process of helping those with special needs, such as patients with multiple sclerosis, find ways to live a more independent and productive life. In some ways, OT resembles efforts made through physical therapy, which helps patients with mobility and physical demand, but there is a lot more involved in the process.

Other efforts of occupational therapy might include but aren’t limited to:

  • Assistance with several daily activities, with therapy that helps patients shower, get dressed, cook, and perform more everyday tasks more within their limitations
  • Identification of hazards and obstacles in both the home and work environment that limit independence and safety, as well as developing ideas and means of stabilizing a more functional environment conducive to the individual needs of the patient
  • Noting the need for specialized equipment that could assist with improving conditions at home, school, or work, including mobility devices, and recommending the best options for each individual patient
  • Helping MS patients learn to use specialized devices and adapt to equipment prescribed, including braces, wheelchairs, orthotics, and more:
    • Walkers
    • Grab bars and other bathroom equipment to prevent falls
    • Devices that aid in driving safety and comfort
    • Utensils and tools that are weighted to reduce tremors
    • Tools used to extend reach for picking items up without bending over
    • Pencil grips and other tools for reading and writing improvement
    • Magnifying glasses and other visual aids
    • Jar openers and other motor skill aids, especially in the kitchen
    • Software that reads computer screens and other devices out loud
  • Assistance in daily planning, such as putting together schedules, setting reminders, budgeting for needs in advance, and completing tasks in a timely and effective manner without overexertion
  • Finding ways for schools and workplaces to help ensure that patients’ needs are met, whether that involves changes to the environment, the ability to work from home, or offering specialized equipment for use when on the job; all of which takes the burden off the patient and helps them obtain specific goals without the added pressure of worrying the disease will inhibit them
  • Finding the right exercises to recommend to improve coordination, strengthen muscles, work on fine motor skills, improve mental alertness, and more
  • Teaching skills that help patients cope with stress and manage depression and other mental conditions

Why it matters

For those who don’t have the impairments caused by multiple sclerosis, this may not seem important. However, just getting through a normal day can be difficult for a patient, especially during a relapse, and it’s vital to have systems in place to assist with continuing business as usual. Consider some of the things others take for granted that could be impacted by MS, which occupational therapy takes into account:

  • Showering, bathing, and using the restroom
  • Dressing, grooming, and getting to work
  • Working in a public environment
  • Meal preparation and cooking
  • Laundry, dishes, and cleaning
  • Driving or walking
  • Engaging in hobbies or social activities
Anything that requires energy expenditure, as well as mobility or fine motor skills, could be impacted, not to mention cognitive skills such as memory retention. It is especially important to have skills and information that can help a patient cope with the absolute exhaustion caused as a relapse occurs and then goes into remission.

Occupational therapy teaches MS patients how to conserve energy and use it efficiently without causing harm to themselves, using a variety of tools and techniques in combinations that are individualized to the needs of the unique patient.

Other tools provided

Other tools provided by occupational therapy help with everything from cognitive issues to improving organizational skills that help with completing tasks. For example:

  • Patients learn how to prioritize tasks to assure the most important ones are completed, in case fatigue or pain makes finishing an entire list of chores is too difficult
  • MS patients obtain skills that assist with problems solving and reasoning, including how to manage finances with reduced work, increased medical needs, and other life changes
  • Therapists provide techniques for memory retention, such as how to keep track of names, setting appointment reminders, and developing habits so keys and wallets aren’t lost

Suggested changes to the home or work environment based on patient complaints and the need to conserve energy may be recommended by an occupational therapist, as well. And in some cases, tools for finding living assistance and determining who to hire and how to manage the cost may be explored, if the disease has progressed beyond self-care but hasn’t reached a point of moving into a full-time facility.

Conclusion

While some dismiss the idea of occupational therapy in favor of other treatment options like physical therapy, the truth is that a lot of multiple sclerosis patients benefit more from OT, especially since employing PT is difficult without the strategies explored through OT.

Learning to manage all aspects of daily life and not just musculoskeletal mobility issues can greatly improve the environment in which a patient lives and works, as well as imparting knowledge of life skills that will ease the stress of memory retention and other impairments. To live a complete and fruitful life, patients can get help with schedules, changing environments, managing tasks, improving memory tools, and even utilizing specialized devices that help them live more independently.

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