How can occupational therapy help me if I have Parkinson's?

Occupational therapy can help people with Parkinson’s continue to carry out everyday activities when they become difficult to do. It can benefit people at all stages of the condition.

Emma Bracher, an independent occupational therapist, tells us about how she works with people with Parkinson’s.

What benefits can occupational therapy have for people with Parkinson’s?

For people with mild to moderate symptoms, therapy focuses on:

  • being more aware of how you move and perform different motor skills. For example, putting on your shirt or getting in and out of the car, which you would have done automatically before being diagnosed with Parkinson’s
  • helping to overcome any difficulties with multi-tasking
  • promoting general mental and physical wellbeing, such as encouraging regular and Parkinson’s-specific exercises
  • the use of mental, visual and auditory cueing techniques to make your ability to move and the quality of the movement better. (A ‘cue’ is something you can do to encourage a movement to restart.)

For people with more advanced symptoms, occupational therapy will also focus on:

  • preventing falls and being able to move around safely
  • establishing safe ways for someone to move from one surface to another. For example, getting on and off your chair, bed and toilet
  • reviewing your needs around seating, wheelchairs and other specialist equipment

What does a typical occupational therapy session involve?

The first session will usually involve an assessment to establish how your Parkinson’s affects you. You and your therapist will then create a treatment plan, laying out what you would like help with, and setting goals for what you want to achieve.

What happens in a follow-up session will depend on what your specific issues and goals are. It could involve:

  • trialling equipment and practising different ways to do things, to improve your safety and ability to carry out daily activities
  • practising specific movements repeatedly, in order to create new habits and behaviours and help manage Parkinson’s symptoms, such as slow and smaller movements
  • learning relaxation techniques, or building your confidence for when you are out and about

How can I see an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapists work within both the NHS and social services settings.

You can also see an occupational therapist privately or you can find out more by visiting the Royal College of Occupational Therapists online directory

Leah is 49 and shares her experience of occupational therapy.

"I arranged to see an occupational therapist through my local NHS integrated care team. I had started feeling very tired. I was also having trouble getting up my stairs and was concerned about falling.

"An occupational therapist came to my house and completed an assessment to help minimise my risk of falls. One of the main adjustments I’ve made since is knocking down my conservatory and replacing it with a downstairs bedroom. I also had a bed guard, a type of rail, fitted to the side of my bed, which I use to pull myself up if I’m feeling stiff after waking up.

"I’m currently in the process of having a wet room fitted downstairs, which contains specialist flooring and grab rails. My occupational therapist helped me apply for a Disabled Facilities Grant, which will go towards building costs.

"Occupational therapy provided me with valuable ideas and strategies that I wouldn’t have been able to teach myself. My therapist’s focus throughout has been on trying to keep me working and active at home, while meeting both my current and long-term needs. It’s been really nice having somebody there who listens and shows a lot of care and compassion."