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How an Occupational Therapist Helps Seniors with Parkinson’s

An occupational therapist helps a senior woman

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder that damages the nervous system and affects movement. It’s a progressive disease that affects a person’s ability to carry out ADLs and IADLs in a normal fashion.

  • ADLs: Activities of daily living, such as getting out of bed, taking a shower, dressing and eating
  • IADLs: Instrumental activities of daily living, such as caring for a pet, cooking, driving

Recognize The Symptoms

While Parkinson’s can’t be cured, medications and therapy can significantly improve some of the symptoms. Parkinson’s treatments such as occupational therapy generally address visible symptoms such as tremors, stiffness and slowing of movement. These symptoms are different for each person, but may include:

Tremoring: Shaking that usually begins in a hand or fingers. The person affected by Parkinson’s may rub their thumb and forefinger back and forth, like they’re rolling a pill.

Slower movement: A person may drag their feet when they try to walk or take shorter steps. Simple tasks may take more time, and movements like getting out of a chair more difficult.

Rigidity: Muscle stiffness happens throughout the body and is painful enough to limit motion.

Loss of balance and posture: Weaker muscles cause a stooped posture and poor balance.

Loss of automatic movements: Loss of muscle control affects smaller reactions such as blinking or smiling, or larger reactions such as swinging the arms while walking.

Speech changes: Speech becomes softer, slurred or hesitant, in more of a monotone.  

Writing changes: Writing is shaky, smaller and less legible. 

Parkinson’s Treatment- Occupational Therapy

The therapeutic activities provided by an occupational therapist can help a person cope with different stages of the disease and help do the things they want to do. Occupational therapy is a Parkinson’s treatment focusing on activities that are important and meaningful to that person and that increases their quality of life. For example, if a person likes to cook but is challenged by Parkinson’s symptoms, an occupational therapist can suggest exercises or adaptive equipment for kitchen tasks. Family members can also be shown how to adapt the environment or modify an activity to help the person with Parkinson’s disease continue the activities they want to do. 

How Occupational Therapy Helps

Occupational therapists address the whole person, helping with mobility but also caring for vision, cognition and adapting the home environment.

Stage 1

Early Parkinson’s symptoms are mild with tremors or movement symptoms on one side of the body. The therapist can adapt the home environment with grab bars in the shower or by arranging kitchen cabinets for easy access to what’s inside. They can bring in adaptive equipment such as tall chairs with armrests to help with transfers. They also teach tremor management strategies and provide exercise training. A therapist can also suggest resources for the person and their family, such as support groups, equipment lending and exercise classes. 

Stage 2

As Parkinson’s progresses, tremoring and other movement symptoms affect both sides of the body. The therapist can show the person how to warm up and stretch before dressing and walking. They may show how to use tools such as a long-handled shoe horn, Velcro shoe closures or bra hooks to make dressing easier. Toileting accidents are avoided with a regular schedule.  

Stage 3

Symptoms may include a loss of balance and slower movements. While the person living with Parkinson’s disease is still mostly independent, they often need help with activities of daily living such as dressing and eating. A therapist may address eating with specially  designed utensils to reduce the effect of tremors. They can also teach transfer methods using grab bars and armrests for safety. 

Stage 4

Tremoring may be less, but rigidity and freezing can be more pronounced. A person may find it hard to stand without assistance or need a walker to move. The therapist can provide adaptive equipment such as a roll-in shower chair or a toilet lift. Other devices may include a bed cane, transfer pole, bed rails or even a hospital bed or electric lift chair.  

Stage 5 

As symptoms advance, leg stiffness can make it impossible to stand or walk. At this stage, a person may need a wheelchair or round-the-clock bed care. Parkinson’s therapy can address care partner training, teaching them how to move the person with Parkinson’s with proper body mechanics, use transfer equipment and help with exercise.

At Regency Oaks, our health care team includes skilled occupational, physical and speech therapists. Genuinely compassionate and kind, they’re accredited and highly qualified caregivers with extensive experience in Parkinson’s therapy. If you would like to find out more about our individualized plans for care, reach out to us at 727-314-7441. Direct admission is available for our therapy and rehabilitation services.