An Occupational Therapist (OT) works to enable and empower people to maintain their abilities and remain independent in daily activities or occupations. The “occupations” that they look at can vary from self-care activities to work, university, leisure or child-care – they encompass what we want, need, or are expected to do. Having multiple sclerosis can impact your ability to carry out these occupations. Helping people remain independent may involve looking at the life demands of the person with MS and finding ways to improve and/or compensate for any deficits relating to the symptoms of MS.
Every person with MS experiences their symptoms differently so the work that the occupational therapist does with each person is usually tailored to that person’s wants and needs. He/she has to be an active participant in their own treatment programme in order for it to be successful. The occupational therapist will work with the person with MS to set goals. Occupational therapy aims to take an holistic view of the person they are working with. They look at physical, emotional, cognitive and psychological functioning of the person and try to deal with difficulties people have in conjunction with the person and their family. Examples of goals the occupational therapist would address would be helping to prioritise the tasks that need to be done at home, come up with alternative ways of doing them and trying things out together with the person with MS. They may also look at improving concentration or memory in order to work/study more efficiently. The occupational therapist would also be able to help with managing fatigue, including mental fatigue, and learning new ways to conserve energy using effective body mechanics and manging lifestyle/routines.
Occupational therapists work in a wide variety of settings. Generally when they work with people with MS it is either in a hospital or in the community. Within the hospital setting, the occupational therapist works as part of the multi-disciplinary team. Due to the changing needs of the person with MS, ongoing reviews in rehabilitation are essential to provide the most appropriate treatment to the person with MS. This may entail reviews of the individual on both an inpatient and out-patient basis. Occupational therapists work on what is important and valued by the people they are working with. They focus on strengths as well as limitations and work in partnership with the person who has MS and their family.
An integral component of the hospital occupational therapist's role is to liaise with the community occupational therapist. The community occupational therapist advises on practical aspects such as adaptations/alterations to the home or specialised equipment to maximise independence in addition to assisting in the application for the Disabled Person's Housing Adaptation Grant. Occupational therapists are attuned to the need for services that have an impact on people’s wellbeing. Occupational therapists are also the health professionals you would likely meet if you had needs in terms of your seating – wheelchairs, pressure cushions - or if you needed some equipment or technology to help you maintain independent and live well with MS. Occupational therapists support and enable people to partake in occupations or activities that are important to them.