By Dee Strauss
Administrator, Green House Living
SHERIDAN — If you are looking for a job, an occupational therapist can’t help you.
Ginny Rieger said when she tells people she is an OT, occasionally they will ask her if she can help them find employment, but job searches are not her area of expertise. So what is OT?
“How I explain it is that, to me, it [occupational therapy] includes anything you do that occupies your time during the day,” said Rieger, co-owner of Teton Therapy. “This could be your job, but it could also be your role as a mother, coach, golfer, gardener — it could also be self-care. It is whatever you do that is important for you to function.”
Ultimately, an OT focuses on returning individuals to their highest functional ability in tasks important to them. For example, Rieger said if you have a rotator cuff injury and you are a senior who enjoys golf, occupational therapy can help you rehab and get back to the things you enjoy. How does a rotator cuff injury affect this individual? Rieger explained that it will make it difficult to wash your hair, lift a laundry basket or swing a golf club.
In a hospital setting after an acute injury, an OT is often the first therapist you’ll see. An OT might help you use an assistive device such as a reacher to help you be independent with putting your pants on. Your therapy could be continued in a rehabilitation unit of a long-term care facility. Here, they also may help you learn how to shower safely, comb your hair, get dressed, etc.
Rieger works with Harriet Elkington of Watt Cottage at Green House Living. Elkington has a right arm humeral fracture. Rieger said Elkington has arthritic changes in her shoulder. Her plan is for Elkington to have better use of her arm.
“I want to be able to use it without it hurting,” Elkington said.
Rieger said she is also working on improving Elkington’s posture.
It might come as a surprise that OTs work in mental health.
“In this setting we focus on the ability to cognitively do things they need to be able to do,” Rieger said. “In active psychosis, like schizophrenia, they may not shower or brush their teeth.”
If the individual has been institutionalized and is being discharged to the community, an OT can work with them to learn how to use public transportation or manage their medications.
At her outpatient clinic, Rieger works with patients of all ages, from children to older adults. In addition to the hospital and nursing home, an OT can also work with seniors on a home safety evaluation.
“If you are struggling with something,” Rieger explained, “chances are an OT will have an idea to help you. We are poorly understood, but we have so much to offer. We are so helpful — if people just knew about us.”