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Resource type: Article

Occupational Therapist

What does an Occupational Therapist do the wards?

The Occupational Therapist (or OT) works very closely with the other members of ward staff to make sure that patients will be able to look after themselves when they go home. This might involve various assessments to see if they are able to do everyday things like washing and dressing, cooking and managing housework and shopping. OTs will also help make sure that patients have all the help they need when they get home, including arranging equipment, support services or more rehabilitation.

Why might a patient need to see an Occupational Therapist after ICU?

Spending time in ICU can result in muscle wasting, weakness, tiredness, stiff joints and problems getting around. This can sometimes lead, in the short term, to difficulties with everyday things like washing and dressing, getting up and down stairs and being able to cook and clean up. Some people get back to normal quicker than others.

OTs talk about any concerns patients have about getting back to work or leisure activities. The OT can also give advice on conserving energy (patients are often very tired for several months after Intensive Care), coping with anxiety (which is also common) and advice on relaxation.

When should the patient expect to see an Occupational Therapist?

If indicated you will be seen by an OT when you move to the general wards from ICU, likely to aid in preparing for discharge from hospital.

What is involved in the various assessments?

  • The OT’s visit will generally start by having a chat with the patient about how they managed everyday activities before they became unwell. They will ask about how well the patient is currently able to do things for themself and worries the patient might have about getting back to normal and the kinds of help they might need once home. There are a number of assessments that she or he might carry out. These include:
  • Personal care (e.g. washing and dressing oneself): With the patient's permission, the OT will assess how well they manage with washing/showering and dressing. This will include assessment of their balance when sitting or standing still (static balance) and during activity (dynamic balance). In order to help the patient maintain independence, the OT may suggest equipment or can help the patient practice these activities.
  • Transfers (e.g. moving out of bed and into a chair or onto the toilet): The OT will ask to watch how the patient moves when getting into or out of bed or a chair. When assessing how able the patient is able to stand up from a sitting position, the OT will also look at how well they can stay balanced when adjusting their clothes. 
  • Mobility (Getting around): Mobility is generally assessed by the physiotherapist. However, the OT may also want to assess how safely patients move around during everyday activities e.g. when carrying or moving things.
  • Cognitive assessments: This is normally a very specialised form of assessment e.g. for patients who have had a stroke or brain injury. More routine cognitive assessments will assess short and long term memory.  
  • Environmental visits: If indicated these are carried out for large pieces of equipment e.g., hospital beds or hoists are required in the home for hospital discharge

What kind of help can patients get after they go home?

There are a number of organisations and services that the OT can refer the patient to before they get home. This will be determined based on your needs closer to discharge. 

What if patients need more help after they get home?

Sometimes, patients who are discharged home without being seen by an Occupational Therapist can struggle more than they thought they would. If this is the case, please make an appointment with your GP to discuss a referral to OT.

Who can I contact if my equipment hasn't arrived?

Some equipment is considered "essential" for hospital discharge (e.g. raised toilet seats), meaning that it must be already in place before the patient goes home.

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