This information explains how occupational therapy can help people with Parkinson’s, what support is available and how to get referred to an occupational therapist.
What is occupational therapy?
Occupational therapy helps people of all ages continue with everyday tasks when they become difficult to do.
Occupational therapists understand that being able to perform these activities can be crucial to your health, sense of wellbeing and maintaining your independence.
How can an occupational therapist help me?
Your occupational therapist may show you different ways to do a difficult task more easily, or give you advice about using strategies, techniques and gadgets where you need them.
They may suggest practical changes, such as rearranging your furniture at home to make it easier to move around an awkward area. They can also advise about other services and forms of support for you or your family and friends.
Specialist occupational therapists can suggest ‘cues’ that may help you perform activities more easily. A cue is a way to help someone complete a task by offering them a prompt.
Occupational therapists can also help you develop strategies to cope with tasks that may become a problem in the future.
What will happen during my appointment?
During your first meeting, your occupational therapist will ask you about your home and work life, your family, other roles and responsibilities, and the types of activities that you need and want to do. They will find out what is causing you difficulty and consider the effect of any other health issues on your day-to-day life.
You will be asked what your main priorities are, what your lifestyle is like and what may be stopping you from carrying out your daily routine. The occupational therapist will work with you to create an action plan, including goals to be achieved over a course of sessions.
In some areas of the UK, occupational therapy services are provided to people in their own homes. In other areas, your appointment may be at a local hospital or healthcare clinic.
For people with long-term conditions such as Parkinson’s, your occupational therapy service could include a course of rehabilitation sessions. What happens in these sessions will depend on your individual goals, and can involve your carer, if you have one.
If needed, the sessions can be used to help you choose and organise equipment or adaptations for your home or place of work.
Help with Parkinson’s symptoms
You may experience fatigue with Parkinson’s, meaning you get physically and mentally tired more quickly. Your occupational therapist can review your daily routine to help you manage this symptom. They will look at planning your time and may discuss gentle exercise and relaxation techniques with you.
People with Parkinson’s can have problems with communication, including changes in their handwriting and difficulties with facial expression. Occupational therapists can advise on coping strategies to help with these symptoms.
If you have Parkinson’s, you may also experience anxiety. This can be due to changes in chemicals in the brain, which control and regulate your mood, or because of concerns about living with a long-term condition. An occupational therapist may be able to help you find coping strategies for anxiety. They can also refer you to a mental health specialist, if necessary.
Providing information and support
Occupational therapists can help you make choices by providing information and explaining the various resources, services and benefits that are available to help you maintain family life, work and leisure interests.
An occupational therapist can also refer you to other services and organisations that offer treatment, support or help.
An occupational therapist can give you advice about driving and how to apply for a Blue Badge parking permit.
They can also tell you how to get help when using other forms of transport, such as at railway stations and airports.
It's best not to buy any equipment without speaking to your occupational therapist first. If your therapist thinks you could benefit from using a piece of equipment, they may be able to provide basic items on loan, free of charge.
Independent information and advice on choosing equipment is also available from the Disabled Living Foundation.
Wheelchairs are available to hire through the NHS or your health and social care service. Your occupational therapist can refer you to the relevant service in your area.
Help with funding for adaptations
Occupational therapists can advise on and help arrange funding for minor home adaptations, such as fitting grab rails and hand rails by steps and stairs.
Usually, occupational therapists based in the social services, social work section or health and social care services of the local authority can give advice about more expensive home adaptations, such as stair lifts and accessible bathing facilities.
They may advise you on any local or national funding available. However, funding applications for major home adaptations are often subject to means testing.
How do I find an occupational therapist?
Occupational therapists are employed in a variety of places, including local health services, health and social care trusts, social services departments, rehabilitation units, day centres, residential homes, private practice and, in some areas, specialist multidisciplinary Parkinson’s teams.
You can usually contact an occupational therapist through your GP, your social services or social work department, or your health and social care trust. Ideally they should have specialist knowledge of Parkinson’s, but this may not always be possible.
You can ask your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse to try to refer you to a rehabilitation unit if you need to see other professionals too.
You can choose to pay for private occupational therapy. To find a private occupational therapist in your area, contact the British Association of Occupational Therapists and College of Occupational Therapists.