Western New York’s Occupational Therapy Resource

Occupational Therapy as part of the Primary Care Team

Buffalo Occupational Therapy


Occupational Therapy | Buffalo NY | Buffalo OT

Michelle Eliason, MS, OTR/L, C.DS., CKTS


Occupational Therapists are present in many sectors of the elder care industry, yet has minimal presence in an area most likely to benefit their skillset–primary care. Occupational therapy is a holistic approach to rehabilition requiring extensive education in human anatomy, functional movements, neurology, psycho-social practice, activity analysis, and  corresponding medical implications. This knowledge of human growth and development along with its focus on occupations (both activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living) make occupational therapits unique productive aging specialists.  With that being said, having an occupational therapist present (on staff or contracted) in every Primary Care Physician’s office can greatly impact the overall health and wellness of each adult patient as well as increasing the effectiveness and reach of treatments offered by the primary care physician/family practice. 

Healthcare and Community Approach to Aging must change or risk collapse

With research and development taking place to determine the extent by which the United States will be affected by the Baby Boomer “Boom”, many states have already begun to create goals and initiatives to protect themselves and their residents from the weight this demographic shift will place on healthcare and community infrastructures. In fact, the Association on Aging in New York met for the fall legislative conference in February 2018 where they began formulating their plans for the future of senior services in New York State because it is ranked 4th highest in the nation for residents over the age of 65. For more information on this CLICK HERE). It has already been determined that without ‘a change’ in current methods, indiviudals will not see maximum success in aging and government dollars will not be able to sustain the expense associated with aging unproductively. Promoting occupational therapy in common preventative and early intervention practice is critical to decreasing healthcare costs, unncessary hospitalizations, and admissions into long term care facilities which cost Medicare and Medicaid an excessive expence. It is a founded concept to encourage indiviudals to see an occupational therapists for a “full function baseline assessment” at 65 years old just as if they would have a colonoscopy at 40 years old. 

What does occupational therapy offer to the primary care prevention and early intervention team for adults? 

Occupational therapists offer much more than ‘job’ training and/or teaching someone how to dress. Some of the benefits of promoting occupational therapy include the following:

1. Objective Assessments

Occupational therapists have access to and are trained in many objective evidence-based assessment tools to monitor status of the 7 dimensions of wellness (social, physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, occupational, and environmental), address deficits, monitor effectiveness of medications such as cognitive stimulants,  and evaluate progression of some neurological/developmental/muscular diseases in order to most efficiently address the root of the problem and eliminate solutions that produce only short term/immediate outcomes. Relying on an ancillary profession such as occupational therapy to perform assessments for any or all of the above will provide primary care physicians, nurses, specialists with objective data by which to derive at the appropriate course of care and treatment. 

2. Productive Aging Insights 

The American Occupational Therapy Association  provides great explanation and resources regarding the vast scope of practice of occupational therapy   to support the aging population in communities across the United States. Occupational therapists are trained to address and impact the full spectrum of age-related needs including:

  • Adult cognitive disorders
  • Sensory modulation disorders in the adult population
  • Alzheimer’s and other related dementias
  • General Health and Wellness
  • Falls Prevention
  • Home Modifications
  • Chronic and Acute Pain
  • Restraint and Seclusion
  • Sleep disorders or difficulties
  • Stroke Rehabilitation
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic Disease
  • and Bariatric complications.

For more information, read the article by clicking here!

3. Memory Training and Support for Alzheimer’s and other Related Dementias (ADRD)

Functional cognition is the cognitive processes required to carry out activities of daily living (ADLs), instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), and community living skills (3). With coursework including Neuroscience, Neuroanatomy, Neuro- rehabilitation, Applied Neuro-physiology, Applied Geriatrics, and Assistive Technology, Occupational therapists are experts in addressing functional cognition. By designing interventions to include environmental context, functional performance skills, and cognitive skills, an occupational therapist is a strategical expert in aging with independence (CLICK HERE for full article).

Non-pharmacologic treatments are considered first-line by multiple medical bodies and expert consensus, show evidence for efficacy and have limited potential for adverse effects. Ideally, non-pharmacological management of NPS in clinical settings occurs in multidisciplinary teams where occupational therapists (OTs) play an important collaborative role in the care of the person with dementia”. (CLICK HERE for more information regarding mental function and Occupational Therapy) 

4. Alternative Pain Management 

Occupational therapists serve a crucial role on the primary and multi-disciplinary healthcare team because of their ability to apply desired treatment outcomes to everyday meaningful activities. It is necessary to have ‘in-office’ treatment, but crucial to then ensure these treatments/approaches are having positive carry over when the individual returns home and participates in activities of daily living/instrumental activities of daily living

Occupational therapists are able to use a variety of training approaches in the treatment of chronic pain including but not limited to kinesiology tape, modalities, graded activity approach, neuromuscular re-education, and home exercise programs  (CLICK HERE for the full article).

5. Immediate Falls Intervention and Prevention Tool

Trained in vestibular and balance conditioning, total body strengthening techniques, and functional movement, an occupational therapist is skilled at executing treatment programs and seminars regarding all major considerations of falls prevention including stability, mobility, carrying Items, climbing stairs, sitting, rising, bending, reaching, grasping, and pinching. When considering tasks like shopping and bringing in groceries — sometimes most, if not all, of these considerations are crucial to rehabilitation. Automatically referring to an occupational therapist to address recent falls or fear of falling due to de-conditioning can decrease future falls in older adults thereby minimizing hospitalizations with subsequent institutionalizations due to falls. 

6. Education, Support, and Training for Patients and Caregivers

 In primary care, family practices are often inundated with both necessary and unnecessary appointments. It is difficult for most physicians and nurses to take the time required to fully educate and encourage their patients. There are time limits to which medical professionals must adhere to maximize productivity and see all patients scheduled. Occupational therapists can be a welcomed support tool to the primary care team as a fundamental element of their profession is patient education and support. Integrating occupational therapy into every day primary care will benefit the primary care team, the occupational therapist, and the patient as occupational therapy will follow course of care throughout the aging process until end of life. 



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