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Do I need an occupational therapist after an accident?

By Kevin Chan in Bicycle Accidents, Car Accidents, Motorcycle Accidents on February 15, 2022

Do I need an occupational therapist after an accident?

For many people dealing with disability, a return to normal life can sometimes seem, at best like a distant possibility and, at worst, an unattainable goal. Going through life with a different set of physical attributes and abilities than that of which you’re used to can be a depressing and frustrating experience for many. At times, you may have to relearn life skills or how to do your job and you may not know how to figure it out. An occupational therapist is someone who can support you through this process and help you figure out how to approach life.

What is an Occupational Therapist (OT)? 

The goal of occupational therapy is to help people with disability, particularly after a car accident, motorcycle accident, bicycling or pedestrian accident discover how to best go through all aspects of life. Disability can cause someone to lose the ability to handle basic tasks, such as eating or bathing by themselves, much less act independently at school or in the workplace. Through sessions with an occupational therapist, individuals will develop skills and techniques that will enable them to regain certain abilities and the self-esteem necessary for independent living.

As of 2020, there are over 19,000 licensed occupational therapists, or OTs, working in Canada. OTs are medically trained professionals who help people experiencing disabilities through their recovery process, with the primary role of being an additional, trained individual available to offer practical guidance and emotional support. OTs can be found in a number of work settings, including: 

  • hospitals and clinics
  • rehabilitation centers
  • long-term homes and assisted living facilities
  • workplaces, such as corporate offices and factories
  • educational establishments

OTs work with individuals of all ages, with some OTs even specializing in providing services for children, juveniles, adults or the elderly. For working adults, injury and illness are the main reasons for enlisting the services of an OT:

  • For someone recovering from a stroke, they might experience challenges like partial paralysis or have difficulty with remembering or learning new things. Working with an OT might include learning basic exercises to improve physical function, and memory techniques to help with retaining daily information.
  • Lack of motivation is a serious issue that people who are going through depression face. An OT can help them establish a positive rhythm to get out of the downward spiral of being unproductive by coaching them through some proactive techniques like creating and living by a set schedule of agreed-upon activities and goals. 
  • Individuals with chronic pain can benefit from working with an OT, who can introduce and help reinforce routines focusing on self-care and improving physical ability. 

How can an Occupational Therapist help after an accident?

Beyond being emotionally traumatic and physically painful, an accident can be an incredibly confusing time. For a working person, being injured means dealing with limitations—from having to stay in a hospital bed and not being able to completely move about as you normally would, to learning to be patient as you adjust to an unfamiliar way of moving and doing things. 

An OT can be a steadying presence during your hospital stay, someone whose job it is to get you ready to face life after this stopover. You might already have your mind made up about your physical condition and how things are going to be moving forward, but an OT can give you a professional, objective overview, along with practical steps to get you moving in the right direction. They can be a voice of reason if you’re being unrealistically ambitious about a return to normal life, or an encouraging coach if they see you being a bit too negative about the whole situation. 

Once you’re able to get out of bed if only for a few minutes or hours at a time, an OT will be able to advise you on a physical regimen to follow, in order to regain some of the muscle mass you lost during the accident. Based on their initial assessment, they’ll put together a training schedule that you can follow at the hospital; not only does it give you an opportunity to move your body and get some fresh air, but through your OT sessions, you’ll get a clearer idea of your improving abilities, which will help ward off depressive thoughts of what you can’t do. 

OT’s can help with planning your discharge home from the hospital

An OT will be a great source of support for you as you plan your discharge and transition from the hospital to your home. While less comfortable than staying at home, the hospital is equipped to take care of all your medical needs. When you are cleared to discharge and are planning to move back home, working with an OT can benefit you in a few different ways:

  • Your OT can give advice and recommendation on what, if any, sort of adjustments you might need to make at home, to facilitate you being able to live your life as independently as possible. With an OT on hand to give advice and answer any questions you might have, you and your family won’t need to worry about not being prepared for life after your hospital stay. 
  • Through your regular appointments, your OT will give a good idea of what your mental state is like, and if they feel you’re at risk of depression or are experiencing any other negative psychological side-effects of the injury, they can step in and help with counselling, as well as provide recommendations for you moving forward.
  • If you’re exercising physical pain during basic movements like eating or bathing (what are referred to as ADLs or “Activities of Daily Living”), occupational therapists can schedule regular sessions with you to help reinforce your physical ability and show you what sort of exercises you can continue to do while at home, as you continue to recover.

OTs will help to arrange treatment

A major component of what OTs do is within the context of community care; that is, visiting people outside of hospitals and providing direct support and help through coaching and training. Over 1.3 million Canadians receive support services at home and in community settings like rehabilitation centers, providing them with support long after their discharge from the hospital. This kind of support can take a number of forms, depending on the sort of injury and the effect that it’s had on the individual:

  • An OT will be able to help you schedule anything related to medical testing, such as booking time for X-rays or other medical procedures. Having a medical professional liaise between facilities like the hospital where you stayed during your initial recovery period, or a third-party clinic makes communication smoother and easier for all parties. 
  • For long-term treatment and care, such as physiotherapy appointments, an OT can help arrange and even lead sessions to improve physical ability. These sessions can incorporate practical movements – using eating utensils, folding clothing, etc – or can be designed to help build overall strength. 
  • Equipment for life at home might be something that an OT will recommend, and can help you procure. Specialized medical equipment, such as hold rails, wheelchairs and walkers, are much easier to access through a licensed professional like an OT. Through the sessions that you participate in with them, they’ll be able to also introduce how to use the different tools in your daily life safely under their supervision.

After ensuring that you are able to transition successfully out of the hospital, the OT’s next priority is to see that you’re in a place where you’re able to access the different services and supports that are necessary to sustain an independent life, including the different services related to physical training, and also any equipment that you might need in your life after being hospitalized. 

Getting back to work

Having your OT communicate with your workplace about your new physical condition and about recommendations for new equipment and working conditions is a way to provide your company with a reputable source of information regarding your situation, and a very neutral way to kickstart a discussion about how and when you might be able to return to the office. 

Just as how they teach different life skills for use in and around the home, OTs will provide training and support about how to handle a return to the office place. They will be able to give you, and your office, a professional recommendation on the things you should be able to return to doing, as well as things that you should avoid. Having an OT provide regular feedback of this sort in your workplace can help you avoid having to explain your condition to management and coworkers, lessening the stress that you might feel having that sort of conversation. 

It is worth investing time in working alongside an OT on the path towards returning to what you were formerly able to physically do. Having regular check-ins with a professional who is there strictly for your benefit is a naturally safe environment for you to focus on yourself and your recovery, during a time when you might be distracted by having to deal with everything from trying to quicken your recovery process or catch up on things at work or home that you missed while in the hospital or dealing with any paperwork related to the accident. Your OT can help challenge and support you from a physical perspective, and also be a monitor and mental support for you at the same time.

Contact our Hamilton Accident Lawyers Today

Matt Lalande and his Hamilton accident law firm have recovered tens of millions in settlements and verdicts for accident victims all over southern Ontario – and have helped countless families regain their lives. Talk to us today about your accident to discover if compensation is available to you and your family. 

Contact us no matter where you are in Ontario at 1-844-LALANDE or local in the Hamilton / Burlington / Niagara areas to set up your free no obligation consultation today. Over the past 20 years, we have assisted car accident victims in Hamilton, Burlington, Ancaster, Stoney Creek, Grimsby, St. Catharines, Welland, Niagara, Sudbury, Milton, Oakville, Toronto, Ottawa, Oshawa and all over Ontario.


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