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You might not realize it, but there’s a good chance an occupational therapist has impacted some aspect of your life. Occupational therapy helps people develop, improve or regain the ability to live as independently as possible. Our name comes from the fact that we are concerned with all the things people do on a daily basis while engaged in the “occupation of living.” This includes just about everything an individual does, from the moment they wake up to the time they go to bed, and, as you can imagine, encompasses a wide range of activities. We work with every age, from newborns to senior citizens and all the ages in between. It is perhaps for this reason why occupational therapy is often difficult to explain. The overall goal of the occupational therapist is to increase a person’s ability to perform all these tasks and activities as independently as possible, with the greatest amount of self-satisfaction.

Specifically, occupational therapy is the therapeutic use of work, self-care and play activities to increase development and prevent disability. It may include the adaptation of a task or the environment to achieve maximum independence, enhancing the quality of life. Occupational therapists focus on the “doing” whatever occupations or activities are meaningful to the individual. It is the therapist’s purpose to get beyond problems and find the solutions that assure that an individual is living life to its fullest. These solutions may be adaptations for how to do a task, changes to the surroundings, or helping individuals to alter their own behaviors.

Occupational therapists can be found throughout the Cayuga County community, including hospitals (Auburn Community Hospital), outpatient offices (Lifespan), rehabilitative centers (Mercy Health and Rehab Center), nursing facilities (Auburn Nursing Home), home health care (Lifetime Care), early intervention (Thrive By 5), and a center-based preschool (E. John Gavras Center), to name just a few.

Occupational therapists provide evaluation and treatment and help people perform functional activities, such as caring for personal needs (i.e. bathing and dressing); participation in school, work and leisure pursuits; performing household tasks, such as shopping and cooking; being involved in job tasks; relearning use of an injured hand or limb; and selection of adaptive equipment for tasks, including reaching, bathing and homemaking.

They also help people of any age whose ability to function in daily life has been affected by health problems, such as arthritis, burns, stroke, amputation, hand injury, birth defects, mental retardation, autism, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, depression, learning disability, substance abuse and mental health impairment.

The American Occupational Therapy Association, founded in 1917, represents the interests and concerns of more than 140,000 occupational therapists, assistants and students nationwide. The association educates the public and advances the profession of occupational therapy by providing resources, setting standards that include accreditations, and serving as an advocate to improve health care. Based in Bethesda, Md., the association’s major programs and activities are directed toward promoting the professional development of its members and assuring consumer access to quality services so patients can maximize their individual potential. For more information, go to www.aota.org.

Currently, a registered occupational therapist has a master’s degree, and doctoral degree programs are starting to show up in several universities around the country. A certified occupational therapy assistant has to have an associate degree. Local colleges that offer degrees in occupational therapy include Ithaca College, Utica College and Keuka College.

April is the month that recognizes the vital role occupational therapists play in our community.

Bob Trapani, of Auburn, is the chairperson for the central district of the New York Occupational Therapy Association.

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