Mastering Skills for Daily Living
Achieving Independence through Occupational Therapy
People struggling to recover from illness or injury frequently need an extra hand —and they won’t find more skilled hands than the ones at the Phelps Occupational Therapy department. The highly trained, nine-person team has a single goal: “to help patients regain the ability to perform the functions of daily living, so they can return to being as independent as possible,” says Anjum Lone, department chief.
Numerous patients – some 30 to 40 — pass through the center daily, re-learning tasks they once took for granted, but that have become difficult or seemingly impossible since a health setback. Someone who’s had a hip replacement, for instance, is taught how to put on socks without bending over (the secret: a special sock-holder). A stroke victim may need practice deciphering directions around town. For this reason, the center’s rooms are labeled with names of Sleepy Hollow streets: “Instead of telling the patient to go to room eight, we’ll tell her to turn right at Cobb Street,” Lone explains.
Several therapists have special training to treat specific conditions such as lymphedema, vestibular deficits and low vision. There is also a Certified Hand Therapist on staff.
Lymphedema is a potentially dangerous swelling of the limbs that is often due to lymph node removal for cancer treatment. To keep this chronic condition under control, patients receive special massages and are fitted with compressive bandages. They are also taught exercises that aid in circulation and drainage.
Occupational therapists provide treatment and training for vestibular problems such as vertigo, disequilibrium or dizziness. Sometimes people experience dizziness with movement such as when putting on shoes or getting out of bed. Other times, the problem starts suddenly – after a trip to the beauty shop, for example. Occupational therapy can treat the problem and help train the body to compensate to support bathing, dressing and other daily living activities.
For those seeking to re-master basic household and office chores, the department offers unique facilities. Patients with visual impairments are shown how to use a computer fitted with a bright-yellow keyboard for high contrast, or can work on improving their visual function with the aid of a Dynavision board. Equipped with numerous red buttons, it lights in patterns custom-designed for each patient, challenging and expanding his field of vision. “We’ll also give people advice on how to incorporate helpful equipment around the house, such as talking alarm clocks,” says Gloria Hudson, the Occupational Therapy Supervisor.
The Certified Hand Therapist addresses complex regional pain syndrome, post-stroke upper extremity deficits, traumatic injuries, post-surgical patients who’ve had procedures such as nerve transposition or tendon repair, as well as orthopedic injuries, tennis elbow and tendonitis caused by using a keyboard — “a problem we’re seeing more and more,” Lone notes.
Children are part of the mix as well. Treatment can assist children to perform age appropriate skills for fine motor or upper body difficulties, such as handwriting, tying shoes or sitting for more than five minutes without tiring.
Perhaps most fascinating of all is The Apartment, a fully equipped bedroom, living room, and kitchen located just off the main center. There, patients get hands-on practice doing everything from opening door locks with keys to sorting groceries on a shelf and handling shade pulls. There’s even a full bathroom, where a therapist recently helped a patient with Parkinson’s disease learn how to get in and out of the shower safely. “Nothing is too personal—we do it all here,” says Lone. “Our patients laugh and shed tears with us, and we often join in. When your therapists cry and cheer along with you, you know they’re truly involved and on your side. And we are.”