As a home health occupational therapist, Tai Killian’s days are never the same, but her mission never changes.
“It all goes back to the main goal of helping people be as independent as they need to be to stay in their home environment,” said Killian, an occupational therapist at Intrepid USA Healthcare at Home located in Wichita Falls, Texas.
April is Occupational Therapy Month. It’s a great reminder to take time to recognize people like Killian who are driven to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those they help. Occupational therapists are professionals who help people regain independence by overcoming barriers related to their physical, sensory, or cognitive issues.
“We teach and train people on different techniques to adapt to their environment, whether they had a stroke or are really weak,” Killian said. “They get a therapist in their home for 30 minutes or an hour once or twice a week and the feeling like they’re in a partnership with you as far as getting better and living their best life.”
The focus of her work is on things like education, training, strengthening, and adaptation. By focusing on the therapeutic use of activities, the individuals helped by occupational therapists develop skills, improve their condition, and maintain existing skills they need for daily life and work.
“There’s so much you can do in your day-to-day life – even just getting up off the couch and walking to the bathroom,” Killian said. “We may have to come up with ways to modify their environment for example – they now need to use a walker for safety and have rugs on the floor or furniture in the way”
While physical therapists guide people through recovery and skill development, the occupational therapist takes the broader environment into account.
“Say someone broke their hip or had a stroke and can’t step into the bathtub anymore, a lot of what we do is adaptation like recommending grab bars and where to put them,” Killian said. “Occupational therapy is so broad that every person I visit is so different in how we help and develop our plan of care”
In addition to focusing on the physical environment, occupational therapists perform cognitive assessments and cognitive training exercises. Many of the people they help have Alzheimer’s or early onset dementia.
“Maybe physically someone gets around just fine, but they need memory sequencing and problem-solving training to stay at home,” Killian said.
With seeing people so often in their homes, occupational therapists also have a clear view into the everyday lives of the people they help.
“We do things like walking, balance training, cognitive therapy, and psychiatric needs, but a lot of times we’re in there talking with them and then we can let their doctor know when new needs appear, such as problems with depression that might not have been apparent at the first visit,” Killian said.
While she works on things like fall prevention or bathroom safety, the best part of her job is watching people’s joy as they achieve their care goals.
“If someone was independent or was declining for a while and they come home, they’re worried, but then you come up with ways that they’re able to do things safely and continue their life,” Killian said. “It may not be the exact way as before, but they’re able to say, ‘Oh my goodness, I can do this by myself!’ and it gives them some semblance of their normal life.”
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