How to improve quality of patients’ lives

Psychology services, OT play key roles

Rehab psychologists, occupational therapists (OTs), and other rehab team members need to address psychological services and work with patients on their emotional coping skills and attitudes, according to a recent study on how disabled people perceive their quality of life.

The research suggests rehab providers could help improve patients’ quality of life by assisting them with community integration, including finding work, says Ruth A. Huebner, PhD, OTR/L, a researcher involved in the study and an associate professor in occupational therapy at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond. At Rehab Continuum Report’s press time, the study was scheduled to be presented at the American Occupational Therapy Association’s annual conference in Seattle.

"OTs’ focus typically has been more on the motor function, improving rehabilitation, and daily living skills," Huebner adds. "We’ve all missed the boat on the psychological part of it and the community integration part of it."

She offers these suggestions for how rehab facilities might improve patients’ quality of life:

• Early in the rehab process, the rehab team should work with caregivers and family members and help patients build up their ability to function within their communities.

• There also needs to be an early focus on employment options, along with training and developing work skills. Spinal cord and brain injury patients rated work for pay as of greater importance than volunteer work, so the focus should be on helping patients find jobs.

• Part of the rehab process should include an emphasis on educating patients on what kind of physical adaptations are available to them if they return to work.

• The rehab team should provide follow-up in the area of community integration. Once patients go home and attempt to become engaged in community and work activities, they should return to the rehab facility and tell the team what is and what isn’t working, she suggests. Then the team can help patients improve problem areas.

Those strategies are particularly important when rehab patients are young and face decades of difficulties in finding work and integrating in the community, she adds. "They become isolated at home and have more behavioral and emotional problems with no help in finding the kinds of community and financial services they need."