How technology is used in occupational therapy
Occupational therapy (OT) aims to help the recovery of patients with mental, physical, and cognitive disorders, including those that arise in old age, giving them the skills to manage everyday life. Like all areas of medicine, OT frequently develops new practices and technologies to advance the field, adding to the range of tactics occupational therapists can use to treat their patients.
Evidence based decisions
Occupational therapists decide on the best treatment and what, if any, technology should be used based on research, experience, and the preferences of their client. They have a life-long journey of education as they keep up to date with the latest practices and technologies.
Occupational therapists who are looking to increase their knowledge and advance their careers often consider gaining formal qualifications including an occupational therapy doctorate (OTD). While this can be achieved through university attendance, many occupational therapists want to keep practicing while they achieve further qualifications. For these individuals, a high-quality online course could be the answer. A good place to look at OTD programs online is at American International College. Through online study and campus residency, this course is designed for students to increase their influence as a leader in the field and expertise in all areas of OT. Through further education, they will also learn about the latest technologies used in OT and how they can be utilized.
Many individuals are already familiar with virtual assistant technology such as Amazon’s Alexa. This technology is applicable to occupational therapy where smart speakers can be programmed to recognize a patient’s voice. They can be connected to various other smart devices such as smartphones and televisions, allowing the patient to operate them without needing to move or request assistance from the OT. Virtual assistants can also help patients keep track of their therapy, providing reminders of appointments or schedules when it is time for a particular exercise or medication.
In the world of OT, ‘smart shoes’ does not refer to shoes for special occasions! Instead, they are shoes used for conditions such as osteoarthritis, which can make walking painful. The shoes may remove the need for hip or knee surgery. AposTherapy technology, for example, redistributes the forces on the foot in a way that reduces pressure on the knees. This allows the patient to exercise without pain, strengthening their legs. This effect is further enhanced by the convex shape of the pods in the shoe, that create a wobble that strengthens their muscles. Over time, this can allow the patient to walk without pain even when not wearing their smart shoes.
Apps and video games
There are several apps and video games that have benefits for OT as well as being enjoyable to play. The benefits of apps can range from simply strengthening the hand muscles and promoting hand dexterity, helping patients to be able to write again, to those that can improve hand accuracy and coordination. Apps are not just for improving movement of the hand, however. There are also apps for visual training and for improving cognitive abilities, such as memory, which are ideal for those recovering from a stroke.
Video games such as driving games can help boost a patient’s spatial awareness. Away from the game, improved spatial reasoning can help them become more independent in a variety of tasks, from buttoning up coats to using household items. The fact that apps and video games can also be a lot of fun has an added bonus of making a patient’s recovery more enjoyable.
Hearing and vision aids
Problems with hearing or vision can significantly hamper a patient’s ability to function well in everyday life. Fortunately, technology is available to help and is no longer limited to the traditional hearing aids and glasses. HyperSound Clear speakers, for example, can amplify and clarify sound, allowing those with hearing problems to better hear speech or enjoy their favorite TV shows. Understanding speech on the phone can be a particular challenge for those with significant hearing loss. A CaptionCall Amplified phone, for example, can caption speech on a screen for the patient to read.
For the visually impaired, technology includes glasses that magnify text to allow reading, with some even containing a text-to-speech option. For those who can read braille, braille touchscreens can facilitate the use of tablets and e-readers. A seeing AI app can scan documents and objects, reading the text aloud. So, for example, when paying a bill in a restaurant, the app can identify what they need to pay.
Computer-based and robotics technology
Once purely the stuff of science fiction, wearable robotic and computer-based technology can help restore strength and movement to a patient. For example, a TheraSuit helps build the correct reflexes and minimizes pressure on muscles and tendons. It may also help build bone density and boost coordination and balance.
Another piece of wearable tech is the Lokomat. These are robots that fit onto the leg of a patient and mimic the movements of the pelvis and legs to transmit the weight from one leg to the other, thus aiding the ability to walk. Over time, this technology can be adjusted to encourage the patient to gradually take on more of the work themselves.
Tech in occupational therapy
The new technological developments make this an exciting time to be an occupational therapist and make the profession even more rewarding. Conditions that just a few decades ago would have severely limited a patient can now be significantly mitigated to give patients a greatly improved quality of life and the ability to manage without frequently requiring human assistance. This is something that provides a considerable boost to the patient’s mental wellbeing.
For those already working in occupational therapy, it is a good idea to keep up to date with all the latest advances to see how they can benefit patients. Gaining additional qualifications either in person at a university, or through high-quality, flexible online study, are excellent ways for individuals to learn about the most recent developments and attain the expertise and authority to decide how to use them.