With a Cart Full of Fascinating Gear, Occupational Therapists Help Patients Return to Normal Activities After Treatment
For some patients, cancer and its treatment can cause side effects that make it difficult to do the everyday tasks most of us hardly think about: buttoning a shirt, eating a meal, getting into bed at night. Eileen Rogers, MS, is one of the occupational therapists who work with them to help them regain the skills they'll need after they go home.
A member of the Roswell Park team since 2005, Eileen travels throughout the hospital during a typical day, "boppin' everywhere" to see patients. "My day's busy!" she says.
Here she answers questions about her job and what she loves about it.
What Is occupational therapy?
Physical therapy deals with your mobility, strength and walking ability. In occupational therapy, we look at your ability to do what we call "activities of daily living" — all the things that occupy your day: bathing, dressing, eating. Can you do those? If you can't, what's limiting you? For example, is it a strength issue or an issue related to problems with memory?
We look at the whole person and see what their needs are. We look at their range of motion, strength, vision, mental sharpness and coordination.
Why would a cancer patient need occupational therapy?
A lot of times it's because of fatigue. Many patients are very tired, because chemotherapy can cause your red blood cells to drop. With those patients we can work on endurance and give them fatigue-management tips. We may also make a referral to a dietitian, to make sure they're eating well.
Other patients may need therapy due to weakness, which impacts their ability to do their activities of daily living. That's the main reason we see patients. They may have been in bed for a period of time, so we need to work on strength. We need to get them up and moving.
Sometimes we help neurology patients who might have some cognitive issues, including memory problems, so we will use activities that work on attention, memory and concentration.
Never miss another Cancer Talk blog!
Sign up to receive our monthly Cancer Talk e-newsletter.
What other types of equipment do you use?
It depends on what their needs are. We use putty — it's like Silly Putty, but more resistant — to work on hand strengthening, pinching and gripping, the fine-motor skills they need to button clothes, for example.
If they're having trouble getting dressed, we can show them how to use long-handled sponges for bathing, long-handled reachers, sock aids and leg lifters, to make it easier to get into bed. We also have adaptive equipment for eating, such as weighted utensils and covered cups for people whose hands shake, and a non-slip mat to put under a plate so it won't slide on the table.
Where do you work with patients — in the Rehabilitation Services Department?
We see some outpatients there, but usually we work with inpatients in their hospital room. If a patient is in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), a physical therapist and an occupational therapist may work with the patient together, getting them to sit up on the side of the bed, maybe standing, and going from there.
Although our goals are different in some ways, both the physical therapist and occupational therapist want the patient to be as independent as possible.
What happens when it's time for the patient to go home?
Some patients need more intensive therapy after their treatment is complete, so we make recommendations for their next level of care — a nursing home or rehab center where they can receive physical and occupational therapy several times a day.
If they're going back home, we need to know who will be around to help them. We also ask them what their goals are.
We try to give them some home exercise programs they can do on their own and encourage them to continue what they've been doing here. Sometimes we'll recommend that they receive occupational therapy at home so they can keep working on the skills they'll need for bathing, dressing, home management and making themselves a meal.
What do you love most about your job?
The most rewarding thing is being allowed into our patients' lives. They're going through a tough time, but we can help them and make their life just a little bit better.