The Latest Trends in Occupational Therapy

While the roots of occupational therapy can be traced back to ancient times, it was conceived as a health profession around 1910 with the first professional occupational therapy association being founded in 1917.  Since then, the field has grown and evolved as more applications for OT treatments become apparent.  Since April is Occupational Therapy month, let’s take a look at some of the latest trends in OT.

Sleep Disorders – There is no shortage of news regarding the continuing prevalence of sleep disorders, and a recent study identifies Occupational Therapy as an underutilized treatment consideration.  There is no dispute that achieving regular quality sleep supports quality of life and functional performance.  OTs can assist sleep-deprived patients in developing strategies to optimize sleep performance, create environmental modifications to support better sleep environments and manage sleep cycles.  OTs can expect to see an increasing number of referrals for patients with sleep issues as more studies address this issue.

Nanotechnology – Occupational Therapists spend a lot of time evaluating a person’s gait or eye movements to track brain function.  The exploding field of nanotechnology may soon have an impact on making these types of evaluations easier, less-intrusive, and more comprehensive. In layman’s terms, nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at a molecular scale.  In other words, really, really small! Soon, sensors that are as thin as tissue paper and about the size of a small bandage will be used to track how a special needs child is walking at home, rather than having to experience the challenges of an office visit.  Other types of paper-thin sensors would be attached to reading glasses to track eye movements, etc. The applications are endless and right around the corner.

Managing Diabetes – According to the CDC, the numbers of young people who are developing diabetes is at an alarming rate.  An ongoing study at the University of Southern California has shown that Occupational therapy can significantly improve the health and quality of life in young people with diabetes. OT interventions should be focused on lifestyle-related activities, creating better habits, and helping young people with diabetes set and achieve life goals. The study is finding that participants who completed the program demonstrated significantly improved blood glucose levels and had created strong habits for monitoring glucose levels.

Childhood Obesity – Another area where OTs can make a difference is in the battle against childhood obesity. OTs are developing after-school programs that promote wellness and physical activity.  Inactivity, genetics, or other health issues are all contributing to the obesity epidemic, and programs that are solely focused on weight loss often alienate a young audience. Instead, OTs are finding that when the focus is on flexibility, stretching, balance, and mobility, the participants are more likely to stay engaged. OTs are incorporating Tai Chi, Zumba, Yoga, and other similar programs for variety and results.

Senior Drivers – As more of our seniors are intent on aging in place and maintaining their independence for as long as possible, OTs who are trained in driver rehabilitation are finding a burgeoning client base for seniors who want to extend their safe driving years.  As seniors age and want to maintain their ability to drive, many physicians are referring them to OTs for a comprehensive evaluation of their ability to drive.  These evaluations include a clinical evaluation to assess things such as vision, perception, cognitive abilities, and motor function.  It also includes an actual driving evaluation where an individual’s ability to drive in real time is assessed.

What emerging trends are you seeing in your OT practice? What trends do you foresee in the years to come? Share your thoughts in the comment section below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.