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Occupational Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

Maintain Independence and Gain Efficiency with Occupational Therapy

By

Updated October 27, 2009

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

It’s interesting to think about what makes a person who he or she is. Of course, the big ingredients to a particular human being are beliefs, morals, values and intelligence. But some of who we are comes out in the things we do every day – what we wear, how we hold a coffee cup, or whether we sit down at a table to eat or just scoop the food out of the pot into our mouths.

Multiple sclerosis can change how we do our everyday tasks as we experience symptoms that make certain actions too hard, too tiring, too painful, or just too much trouble. For instance, have you found yourself avoiding baths that you used to love for fear of falling getting in or out of the tub? I have. Have you changed your mind about what to cook for dinner because a certain dish required too much standing at the stove? I have. Has your handwriting gotten indecipherable?

All of these situations can be addressed by occupational therapy. Occupational therapy is not only for people having a lot of trouble doing things, it can be useful for people who are just getting a little more frustrated or tired than they used to get. Intrigued? Read on…

How Can Occupational Therapy Help People with Multiple Sclerosis?

The whole point of occupational therapy is to make our everyday activities easier for us. This will help us conserve valuable energy, prevent injury and let continue to do things for ourselves longer. In short, occupational therapy keeps us independent longer.

Occupational therapists offer help with the following:

  • Modifying your bathroom (installing safety bars in the tub, seats in the shower, a higher/lower toilet seat)
  • Evaluating driving and modifying vehicles
  • Adapting kitchens (optimizing cabinets and storage space, organizing cookware)
  • Computer modifications (voice recognition software, keyboard/mouse adaptations, optimizing ergonomics of workstations)
  • Helping people learn how to use assistive or mobility devices (wheelchairs, canes, scooters, walkers) efficiently in their home (transferring to/from the devices and beds, toilets, chairs; maneuvering them in various spaces; installing ramps to make using devices easier)
  • Introducing dressing and grooming aids (demonstrating button hooks, suggesting replacing zippers and small buttons with Velcro, making closets easier to use)
  • Teaching how to use eating and drinking devices (helping clients use assistive devices, such as double-handled cups, lightweight or weighted utensils, special plates and dishes)

How Can I Find an Occupational Therapist?

The doctor that treats your MS will no doubt have an occupational therapist recommendation for you. You also can call your local chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society for a list of OTs in your area who specifically work with people with MS.

How Much Does Occupational Therapy Cost?

It’s hard to say how much occupational therapy will cost, as people will need very different services. It seems like a going rate ranges between $65 and $300 dollars per hour. If you do not carry insurance, or your insurance does not cover occupational therapy, discuss this with your doctor and a couple of therapists to see what can be worked out. Some chapters of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society have programs to help pay for therapy sessions.

If you will need to pay out of pocket, make sure the therapist is aware of this. Ask him or her to show you things that you can practice on your own at home to make progress, rather than trying to do it all during your sessions. Ask for any printed materials or videos that you might be able to refer to at home.

Want to Learn More About Occupational Therapy (No Strings Attached)?

The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) has a great video introducing occupational therapy and how it can be used to increase the functionality of the homes of people with multiple sclerosis, called Making Your Home Work for You: Increasing Safety and Independence. The video describes the occupational therapy process and demonstrates some of the areas that can be modified for maximum efficiency, as well as discussing some of the psychological aspects around occupational therapy.

Additional Information/Points

MS Savvy: Make sure that the OT has experience with multiple sclerosis. There are things that are pretty unique to MS, such as fatigue and heat intolerance, as well as symptoms that may come and go. OTs need to be familiar with the changing nature and many aspects of MS in order to address them and create the best program for you.

You Have to Work at It: Occupational therapy is not an immediate “fix.” There are certain things that you can do to make your therapy outcome more successful, which will ultimately improve your quality of life. For some tips and ideas, please read: Getting the Most Out of Occupational Therapy for People with Multiple Sclerosis

Sources:

Esther MJ Steultjens, Joost Dekker, Lex M Bouter, Chantal J Leemrijse, and Cornelia HM van den Ende. Evidence of the efficacy of occupational therapy in different conditions: an overview of systematic reviews. Clinical Rehabilitation. Mar 2005; vol. 19: pp. 247 - 254.

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