April is National Occupational Therapy Month: “Living life to its fullest potential”

Helping him return home....
April is Occupational Therapy month. Pictured at left is Tami Gebel, OT, and at right is Melissa Clarke, OT, both occupational therapists at Veterans Memorial Hospital in Waukon. They are pictured with Danny Schlitter of Waukon, who experienced a stroke this past winter. He spent over a month at Veterans Memorial Hospital recovering in swing bed care and continually made huge progress. He was able to return home and now comes into the hospital as an outpatient, where he continues to make great gains to living his life to the fullest potential. Submitted photo.

by Tami Gebel,
Occupational Therapist

Living life to its fullest potential, that is what most people desire. How each person lives their life to the fullest is different.
For some people, their job or profession brings confidence and self-reliance. For other people, leisure activities, such as golfing, painting or gardening, provides hours of enjoyment. Still others find spending time with family brings the greatest joy.  However a person defines “living life to its fullest,” most people worry that after a family member experiences a stroke the “living life to its fullest” no longer exists.

Every year, millions of people either experience a stroke first hand, or a spouse or close relative has a stroke, and need to learn how to deal with the changes. A stroke can cause physical changes, such as the inability to move an arm or leg; cognitive changes, such as inability to remember important information; or language difficulties, such as the inability to have a meaningful conversation. The recovery process after a stroke can take days to years.  Recovery after a stroke does not reverse the brain damage that has occurred, however, the brain learns new ways of doing things.

Occupational therapists’ role in stroke recovery is essential to helping the brain learn new ways of completing activities in order for people to achieve the best possible outcomes. An occupational therapist’s goal is to help the stroke patient and their family identify important daily life activities and work to achieve the highest level of performance. Some of the daily activities may include washing/brushing/fixing one’s own hair, brushing teeth, showering, toileting, dressing, making meals, balancing one’s own finances, shopping, child caregiving tasks, work or job duties, and leisure activities.

The occupational therapy staff at Veterans Memorial Hospital is committed to helping each patient regain the ability to complete daily activities following a stroke.  Inpatient rehabilitation occurs right after a stroke occurs, and the person needs to remain in the hospital while he/she learns to get out of bed and walk, shower, dress, and take care of himself or herself.

The rehabilitation process can continue at home following a person’s discharge from the hospital setting.  The occupational therapy staff can go into the home of the stroke patient to work on increasing independence in activities of daily living, or ensuring a patient is safe and can remain in the home setting.

The recovery process can continue while the stroke patient returns to community life. Occupational therapists can work with patients in an outpatient setting, where the person lives at home but returns to the hospital on a regular basis, a couple times a week, to continue to work on improving function. A person may need to continue improving strength, coordination, or higher level activities, such as planning and preparing meals or managing finances.

Whatever a person’s valuable life activities are that define “living life to its fullest potential,” the occupational therapy staff at Veterans Memorial Hospital is committed to helping the person achieve those goals. Through promoting physical, mental and emotional health, the occupational therapists at VMH are dedicated, and often essential, to achieving a fulfilling life after experiencing a stroke.