Monday Medical: April is occupational therapy month

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Occupational therapy — you may have heard of it, but do you actually know what it is?

Occupational therapists are an integral member of a rehabilitation team. In honor of Occupational Therapy Month, we thought we would shed some light on this lesser-known profession.

Monday Medical

Monday Medical columns publish weekly in the Steamboat Today's Yampa Valley Health section. Read more columns here.

To begin, let’s dispel some common misconceptions about occupational therapy. It is not the same as physical therapy or massage therapy. While professionals from these fields often work together, each therapist plays a different role in a patient’s recovery.

For example, a physical therapist may work with a patient on regaining strength and balance, while an occupational therapist works on cognition and learning specific tasks to help the patient navigate through their daily activities.

“We do not help people find jobs,” said Marty Melland, an occupational therapist at SportsMed, when asked what he’d like people to know about his career.

The word occupation, in this case, is used to describe the activities people perform daily. Occupations may include everything from brushing teeth, taking the bus or even cooking. He went on to explain, “We do help people get back to work and back to life.”

Occupational therapists help patients with many types of health problems. Melland works with inpatients at Yampa Valley Medical Center. Most of them have had a stroke or recent surgery on their hip, knee, shoulder, back or neck. Some of the skills he works on with his patients include how to safely get in and out of cars, take a shower, use the toilet and even navigate the kitchen. When needed, Melland teaches the patient how to use adaptive equipment to help make life easier.

Megan Marion works primarily with the geriatric population at Casey’s Pond Senior Living. Her day starts early, helping patients dress themselves, helping them use fine motor skills such as tying shoes and buttoning shirts. Her ultimate goal is to help her patients build endurance by practicing activities they normally would do each day to help them go home safely.

Emily VanWieren works with outpatients, seeing patients at SportsMed in a clinic setting. Many of VanWieren’s patients are trying to regain function in a hand, elbow or wrist. Often, her goal is to improve range of motion and improve fine and gross motor skills. She helps her patients by having them practice functional skills such as grasping or sorting.

Peggy Frias works with children from preschool through middle-school age at SportMed’s pediatric clinic (located in the “Little House” at the corner of Central Park Drive and Pine Grove Road). Her patients’ visits may include everything from sequencing to building attention to task and using scissors. She provides adaptations for children with disabilities so they can participate in their favorite occupation — play. Frias helps children learn needed skills and has the special challenge of making it fun.

No matter the setting, the ultimate goal of an occupational therapist is to help an individual do what they want or need to do to live his or her life.

While the specialty of each therapist varies greatly, they all agree that being an occupational therapist is a great profession. The field is in high demand, job growth is on the rise and job satisfaction levels are high. All occupational therapists are now master’s prepared. Certifications in specializations such as hand therapy, lymphedema and neurological rehabilitation also can be earned with years of training.

For more information about the field of occupational therapy, visit www.aota.org.

Heather Rose is the marketing/communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at heather.rose@yvmc.org.

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