Occupational Therapist at work
Occupational therapy student Pfc. Daniel Bell works with Warrior in Transition Spc. Kerry Glennon, to help him regain range of motion in his left wrist and fingers. Glennon had a bone taken from his leg and placed in his arm.

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- To commemorate April as National Occupational Therapy Month, occupational therapy practitioners at Brooke Army Medical Center host an open house from noon to 2 p.m. April 15 at the main occupational therapy clinic in BAMC's medical mall.

Occupational therapy, or OT, is a rehabilitation profession and treatment approach that uses "occupation" or everyday activities to help people engage in activities important to them. OT enables people to live their life to its fullest by helping them to live with illness, injury or disability.

When injury or illness interferes with a person's ability to function, OT practitioners can intervene to reverse the decline in function and improve quality of life. These practitioners work in several settings, since BAMC has five distinct OT sections that specialize in helping people with specific groups of conditions.

Some in OT work in the Institute for Surgical Research, where they care for individuals who have functional deficits resulting from severe burns. These therapists focus on preventing deformities from burn scars, while helping patients function more effectively.

Other occupational therapists work in the Traumatic Brain Injury Service where they specialize in addressing functional problems associated with the cognitive and behavioral changes in patients with head injuries.

In this setting, a patient may benefit from using an iPhone or other personal assistive device to function better in spite of memory deficits. The therapist may also teach a range of compensatory strategies for coping with decreased memory and thinking abilities.

Occupational therapists working in the Center for the Intrepid specialize in rehabilitating wounded warriors who have sustained limb amputations or severe limb injuries.

At the Center for the Intrepid, therapists help patients learn to use their prosthetic limbs. Patients may also relearn how to drive in the CFI's driving simulator, which consists of a truck cab with wraparound video screens which virtually projects road conditions created by the therapist. The soldier uses a specially adapted control to operate the vehicle to compensate for lost limbs or other functional disabilities.

The main OT clinic has therapists to specialize in taking care of the needs of patients with orthopedic conditions of the hands and arms. At this clinic, patients can be seen getting a custom made splint or doing things such as exercises, wood working projects, model building or playing a guitar.

The point of all these activities is to help the patient to function more effectively regardless of their condition or to help their condition heal so they can function more effectively.

Other therapists work in the Warriors in Transition Battalion, where they specialize in the helping wounded warriors reintegrate into work activities.

Occupational therapists in these settings have specialized treatment approaches to meet the distinct needs of the patients they serve. What they have in common is using occupation as their primary treatment, with the goal of helping patients reach their highest functional level in spite of their medical condition.

Today OT practitioners are helping Wounded Warriors get back to a productive life, something the profession has done since its creation. Occupational therapy came about in the shadow of the World War I on the premise that engaging patients in meaningful activities had curative value.

OT originally consisted of activities such as woodworking and weaving. Over the years, OT has evolved and the activities used in practice are reflective of the times. Today, therapists may use virtual reality or electronic assistive devices rather than wood and yarn. At its core, however, OT is the same. Occupational therapists view occupation as being vital to health and well being and strive to enable patients to live life to its fullest.

For more information about occupational therapy, visit the American Occupational Therapy Association's Web site at http://www.aota.org.

(Christopher Gills is an occupational therapist in the Traumatic Brain Injury Service; Lt. Col. Steven M. Gerardi is the Chief, Occupational Therapy Service, Brooke Army Medical Center)

Page last updated Thu April 1st, 2010 at 15:54