Giving people freedom: the work of an occupational therapist
“We help people remain true to themselves.”
Iona Kerriss is a specialist palliative care occupational therapist here at Saint Michael’s Hospice. An occupational therapist’s primary aim is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life, such as getting out of bed in the morning, getting washed, preparing meals, going to work or school.
Iona’s job is all about giving people choices as to how to respond to the everyday challenges of living with their condition. “I help people to find strategies for managing fatigue, overcoming anxiety, adapting their occupations,” says Iona.
Accident, illness and ageing can turn everyday activities into challenges which reduce independence and undermine our sense of identity. Occupational therapists recognise that being able to perform these daily activities is crucial to health and wellbeing.
Because Iona’s work is all about coming up with solutions to help individuals, there is no typical day in her line of work.
On the day we talked, Iona met up with a woman who uses the day therapy unit here at Saint Michael’s. This woman had mentioned to Iona that she wanted to be able to take a bath at home, so Iona drove out to see her with a bath lift, a piece of equipment which makes it easier to get in and out of the bath. Iona showed the woman how to use the device, and ordered one for the woman to have installed in her home permanently.
Iona works with the wider care team (nurses and other allied health professionals such as physiotherapists or neurological specialists) at Saint Michael’s to learn about and support our service users with their needs. Recently, she conducted a home visit to the house of a woman who was staying in our inpatient unit. Some of the changes she helped this woman make in her home include extra rails for the stairs and a shower board for her bath. Iona and her colleagues also made it possible for a patient to vote in the European elections – because this was important to him.
“We give advice, but it’s patients who choose what they want,” says Iona.
“We take an individual approach. We help people remain true to themselves, to retain their personality and control over their situation.
“We provide information and advice, but we don’t impose!”
An occupational therapist can enable a patient to live as independently and with as much dignity as possible, whilst, at times, preparing to die. They will consider all of the patient’s needs, physical, psychological, social and environmental. This support can make a real difference to the life of the patient and their family and enable them to live life to the full even when time together is short.
“It’s about enabling people to live as well as they can at the end of their lives.”
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