Functional Therapy Focuses on Mastering Everyday Activities

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Female occupational therapist works with a young female patient to fill a medicine tray with brightly colored beads representing medications
At Encompass Health, functional therapy kits allow patients to practice activities that make up everyday life. The focus of kits range from medication management to pet care.

For most, therapy at an inpatient rehabilitation hospital means three hours of therapy a day, five days a week. It’s a requirement that may seem daunting to patients who have just experienced a life-changing event like a stroke or brain injury.

For these patients, it’s important to paint a complete picture of what therapy may look like. While certainly, rehabilitation focuses on regaining physical mobility and strength, it also means much more. For one patient, therapy at an Encompass Health inpatient rehabilitation hospital might include filling a dog bowl with water and placing it on the floor. For another, it might mean ironing and folding clothes, or maybe pulling out a wallet and counting money.

Whatever the tasks may be, they are unique to the patient and their lifestyle, and can make a great difference in a patient’s outcomes and abilities as they prepare to return to their community.

“What we see from our experience working with patients is that when therapy focuses on practicing the actual activities they will be performing at home the patient is more likely to gain confidence and perceive themselves as being more independent,” said Tracie Hunnicutt, therapy manager at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Arlington. “This is confirmed by the research on functional therapy, which clearly shows a link between functional therapy and improved patient outcomes.”

What is Functional Therapy?

Whether it’s taking the lid off of a bottle of medication or feeding a pet, little things make up daily life, and they are things patients want and need to get back to.

It’s those everyday activities that makeup a life, but they’re often overlooked until patients are challenged with them after returning home.

To make sure patients are prepared to handle those everyday activities, Encompass Health created functional tool kits available to hospitals. The kits contain a collection of common items that patients can use in their therapy, just as they would use them in their home.

While the focus of the kits is on function, it’s not to replace those activities that focus on impairments. Instead of improving a disability or dysfunction, the kits aim to get patients practicing those activities they’ll be performing when they go home.

“What is important to the patient is important to us,” Hunnicutt said. “The daily activities and interests of each patient are very different, which is why the therapy plan for each patient is unique and highly individualized. If caring for a pet was the highlight of their day, then helping them get back to caring for that pet is an important part of our therapy. If they are concerned about paying their bills or managing their medications then we practice those skills until they are confident. If they enjoy cooking then we spend our time in the kitchen working on their favorite meals. Our entire goal in therapy is to ensure the patient returns home more independent and that they are able to perform the activities that bring them joy and fulfillment.”

Connecting the Dots Between Therapy and Life at Home

Currently there 16 categories of kits available. Leisure, for example, contains board games such as UNO, Connect Four, Battleship and others.

Additional categories focus on anything from pet care and personal and home care to paying the bills and counting change.

All include items, or replicas of them, that patients use in their homes. For example, a laundry kit might have an iron and ironing board, as well as a gallon-sized container filled with water to serve as laundry detergent. Pet kits for dogs and cats and even fish, have been popular, as have everyday cleaning items such as dusters and vacuums.

“The functional kits are a great way to help patients to get back to their desired activities at home and in the community,” Hunnicutt said. “In combination with skilled therapists and an individualized treatment plan, they are a powerful tool to return a patient to independence.  Encompass Health continues to lead the way in developing and implementing functional therapy initiatives that promote better patient outcomes and higher patient satisfaction.”

The content of this site is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical conditions or treatments.