Parkinson’s Disease: How Can Occupational Therapy Help?

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive, neurodegenerative disorder of the central nervous system. This condition presents differently in everyone and is classified from stages 1 – 5, from earliest form to end-stage.

Common symptoms include:

  • Resting tremors
  • Bradykinesia (slow movements)
  • Stiffness in the arms, legs, or trunk
  • Postural instability
  • Difficulties with balance, standing and walking
  • Changes in speech and/or swallowing

Although PD is a progressive condition, there are three main forms of intervention typically used:

  • Medication
  • Surgery
  • Therapies

How can Occupational Therapy help?

OT intervention can assist the individual to function optimally in their activities of daily living and facilitate their engagement in occupations most meaningful to them. Four main areas targeted by OT intervention are:

  • Activities of daily living: teaching the use of adaptive techniques and tools to reduce the impact of tremors, and provide strategies to assist with managing medication routines. This may also include gait and balance-based activities
  • Sensorimotor: facilitating joint movement, maintaining range of motion and preventing contractures through impacted joints, and improving motor planning and task execution
  • Psychosocial: providing group-based interventions to enhance overall functioning and social participation in a supportive environment, providing education in self-management skills (e.g. knowing how to respond to symptom changes and displays, when to seek medical attention), promoting engagement in productive activities and leisure, exploring and discussing roles within the family and home unit, and providing education to individuals, families, and carers
  • Environment: assessing for and implementing appropriate assistive technologies and home modifications to enhance safety and accessibility within the home and community, assisting clients, families and caregivers to explore the community for support groups and resources

Occupational Therapists is able to assist the individual with PD across the continuum of care. As PD presents differently in everyone, Occupational Therapists need to maintain a client-centred approach and consider what interventions will be most effective for each client. Occupational Therapists will also tap into each client’s motivations, and tailor interventions accordingly. Progress is able to be tracked through the use of standardised assessment tools and task and goal-directed intervention, to monitor goal achievement and determine any changes that need to be made to the treatment program.

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