Health & Wellness

What is Occupational Therapy?

Take a minute to think about everything you do from the moment you wake up until you’ve had your first cup of coffee…

cup-2618679_1920-Sit up in bed
-Turn off your alarm
-Stand up out of bed
-Put on your slippers
-Use the toilet
-Brush your teeth
-Start the coffee maker
-Take a shower and dry off
-Get dressed
-Comb your hair
-Pour your coffee
-Sit down at your table
-Finally.. drink that coffee

How many did you miss because they are things you do without thinking? When you lose functionality of a major muscle group, many of those tasks can become a struggle. That’s where Occupational Therapy comes in.

What is Occupational Therapy?

OTThe quick definition for Occupational Therapy is “Skills for the job of living”. Any activity you do to function throughout the day would be something that Occupational Therapists cover. Many times these are skills that you wouldn’t even think about until the time comes that you’re unable to do them anymore. Skills like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed, cooking, and eating all fall in the realm of OT.

Who are they?

The IMH Occupational Therapy team consists of two licensed Occupational Therapists and one Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant. They cover a large area between them. Kristy, MOTR/L, has been with IMH Rehab Services for almost 20 years. She visits many Home Health patients and provides occupational therapy in their homes. She also works with patients in Outpatient Rehab, including pediatric patients. Laura, MOTR/L, has been with IMH for 2 years and works with many of the outpatients that come into Rehab following surgery or stroke. She also makes rounds to visit, evaluate, and provide therapy for in-patients at IMH. Katie, COTA, is the newest member of the team. She works primarily with the Residents in the Iroquois Resident Home. She assists many of the Residents with building up their strength so they can eventually regain some of their independence. 


What do they do?

Occupational Therapy primarily focuses on rebuilding hand and arm strength. Patients who have had shoulder or hand surgery, have ailments like tennis elbow or carpal tunnel, or are struggling with adjusting after an amputation would typically go through Occupational Therapy.

They use everyday objects and turn them into therapy. For example, one common tool therapists use is a kitchen – complete with stove, refrigerator, and microwave. By having a patient cook a full recipe, the therapists can evaluate and work multiple areas at one time.IMG_0944.jpg

Assessing and sharpening the use of fine motor skills – Can the patient hold the measuring spoon steady?
Verifying mobility, balance, and strength – Can the patient shift their weight from foot to foot as they move between different tasks in the kitchen?
Evaluating the patient’s shoulder/arm strength – How well can the patient hold the spoon while stirring ingredients?
Monitoring cognitive abilities – How well does the patient follow the recipe? Do they follow proper safety protocols in the kitchen, like wearing hot mitts when reaching in the oven?

Each patient, based on their diagnosis and reason for needing occupational therapy, would have an individual list of exercises and activities they would use to target their specific needs.  Patients will complete variations of different exercises and as therapy progresses the therapist will gradually make the task more challenging – challenging but not impossible. The biggest success stories all have one major factor in common. They ALL follow their at home stretching and exercise plans!


Who do they work with?

Our IMH Occupational Therapy is the only team in the area that works with patients from newborn to geriatric. We also have the smoothest continuum of care in the area – from an inpatient at IMH to Iroquois Resident Home to Home Health Services to Outpatient Rehab Services – your rehab process and progress is noted and tracked from start to finish by the same team.

If a infant is unable to use certain muscles when they are born, Occupational therapists will teach the parents ways to work with baby to stretch the muscles. As an infant grows, if they are unable to do things like hold a bottle or play with toys, therapists will work the muscles and help the child reach those milestones.

Most toddlers are seen for the simple fact that they need assistance with reaching developmental milestones. Often, the therapist will play games of matching, stacking or coloring to engage whichever muscle group needs focus. The child sees it as spending an hour playing, not “therapy”.


Pre-school age:
As children progress into school age, more tasks are expected of them. Children with developmental delays can quickly fall behind. Occupational therapists will work with them on pre-writing skills, drawing, cutting, and other tasks that require adept fine motor capabilities.

School age:
Once children move into elementary school, therapists continue to focus on the fine motor skills. However, the exercises become more intricate and geared towards skills like tying shoes, writing, and other tasks that will keep students on track with classroom developmental requirements.

While some adults do still require regular Occupational Therapy, most adult treatment is only a necessity following an injury or surgery.  Patients who have experienced a stroke, have a repetitive motion injury, or been through any surgery that impairs the use of a limb would use Occupational Therapy to retrain themselves to perform daily tasks. OT also teaches patients other motions and techniques that they could use to help avoid future injury.


Most of our geriatric patients are located in the Iroquois Resident Home or home-based and using IMH Home Health Services. The primary focus of therapy for these patients is to build up their muscle strength and tolerance for activities of daily living (ADL).


How do they work with other forms of therapy?

Many times people confuse Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy. While the two usually go hand-in-hand, they serve different purposes. Physical Therapy is used to stretch the muscles and provide more mobility and muscle flexibility. Whereas, Occupational Therapy aids with regaining muscle strength, memory, and functionality for use in daily tasks.  Another major difference between Occupational and Physical Therapy is the scope of work. Occupational Therapy primarily focuses on upper body and functionality, while the main focus of Physical Therapy is usually lower body and mobility. Although, there are times when a patient recovering from an injury of the lower body will use both services.

Kristy, MOTR/L, working with Cris, MHS CCC-SLP, IMH Speech therapist to serve a patient with both speech and occupational therapy

Just like Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy often go hand-in-hand. For example, if a child needs occupational therapy and speech therapy, many times the two therapists will work together and have one session with the child. As the child is working on pronouncing words in the game (speech therapy), the occupational therapist will have them pick up small pieces that coordinate with the words they are saying (fine motor skills). For adults, many times stroke patients will have trouble speaking following the incident. In that event, while the patient is working on their occupational therapy exercises the speech therapist will be present working with them on regaining their speech capabilities.


Our dedicated Occupational Therapy Team definitely deserves recognition and praise for the hard work and dedication they invest everyday for the patients we serve. There is no better time to recognize them than Occupational Therapy Month. To all of our Occupational Therapy Staff.. Happy OT Month! We couldn’t do this without you!!


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