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Parkinson’s Disease: What’s That Got To Do With Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapy

Parkinson’s Disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. The most commonly known symptom is shaking or tremors in the hands/upper limb, but it also causes problems with posture, walking, speaking and swallowing. Well known people who have raised the profile of Parkinson’s Disease (PD) include actor Michael J. Fox and boxer Muhammad Ali.

This is a brief outline of how Occupational Therapists help patients with PD in 3 main areas:

  1. Person:
    1. strategies such as timing activities around when the patient’s medication is most effective each day
    2. find out what goals the patient has and work towards that
  2. Environment:
    1. home visit to make sure the environment is safe, assess whether a carer is required
    2. assistive technology – e.g. equipment/devices to aid getting in and out of bed or up and down from a chair
  3. Occupation:
    1. find out what the patient is interested in (e.g. hobbies) and put in place strategies or technologies to continue this
    2. self care – assistive technologies could include weighted cutlery to reduce hand tremors when eating, plate guards (so food doesn’t fall off the plate), a walking belt or a wheelchair

Occupational therapists will often work in conjunction with other health professionals to manage patients with PD, for example:

  1. Physiotherapist – will help with balance and falls prevention, posture and mobility
  2. Speech pathologist – exercises for speech, communication devices, swallowing assessment, positioning strategy and/or assistive technology for eating, individual advice regarding food (swallowing)
  3. Dietitian – recommend a diet to maintain a healthy weight (as weight loss is common in PD)
  4. Neurologist – prescription of medication and monitoring of symptoms
  5. Nurse – may be monitoring the patient if they are in an aged care facility

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