What Role Does an Occupational Therapist Play in Home Modifications?
An occupational therapist is a skilled healthcare professional who helps individuals, no matter what age, disability, illness, or disease, to promote, prevent, or regain function in their daily lives. An occupational therapist works in various settings, including acute care, inpatient, skilled nursing facilities, home health, outpatient hand clinics, mental health, pediatric clinics, and more (American Occupational Therapy Association [AOTA], 2020). One setting an occupational therapist can play a valuable role in is the process of home modifications for individuals who want to age in place or be more independent within their home.
An aspect of the occupational therapist’s scope of practice involves working with the individual to ensure that a device or equipment is a person, environment, and occupational fit. An occupational therapist understands the individual’s disability or potential disability and can make recommendations or determine ways a home can be modified to further allow for continued independence and safety. Burns, Pickens, and Smith (2017) explained that including an occupational therapist as a resource and part of the home modification team is essential since they look at the importance of not only the physical abilities but also the sensory and cognitive changes that could impact the individual’s future living situation. An occupational therapist understands the progression of diseases, disabilities, and illnesses and what accessible equipment, devices, or home modifications would best fit the client throughout their life.
Each individual has specific occupations that are important to their daily routine. An occupational therapist will complete a comprehensive assessment of the individual in their home and further determine what accessible equipment and modifications would benefit the individual to ensure the individual will continue to live safely and independently. The occupational therapist’s initial evaluation will include an assessment of the home that focuses not only on one location within the home but also includes all of the other areas a client frequently uses throughout their day. One assessment an occupational therapist may use to evaluate the individual in their home is the SAFER-HOME. The occupational therapist will have the client complete tasks associated with the SAFER-HOME assessment. Some of the tasks that the SAFER-HOME addresses include the living situation, mobility, environmental hazards, kitchen, household, and bathroom. If a task is unable to be observed, the occupational therapist will ask questions related to the tasks through an interview with the client (Chieu et al., 2006).
After completing the assessment, the therapist will recommend changes to the client’s home and explain to the client safety concerns that they found (Chiu et al., 2006). This simple assessment will determine if further home modifications are necessary and help resolve the issues to increase independence and safety (Powell-Cope, Thomason, Bulat, Pippins, & Young, 2018). Overall, occupational therapists provide a valuable perspective when considered part of the home building or remodeling process. The occupational therapist will ensure your needs are met and determine if the environment will allow for independence as you age.
About the Author
Jackie Baumgartner is currently a third-year Doctor of Occupational Therapy student from the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND. She is currently completing her doctoral capstone at Sparling Construction and GoUniversal. Jackie will be graduating in the spring of 2021 and plans to begin her career as a traveling therapist with her husband. She is very excited to provide you with information regarding different topics about home modifications, disabilities, and ways to make your home more accessible.
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2020). Occupational therapy practice framework:
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Burns, S. P., Pickens, N. D., & Smith, R. O. (2017). Interprofessional client-centered
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Chiu, T., Oliver, R., Ascott, P., Choo., L. C., Davis, T., Gaya, A., Goldsilver, P., McWhirter, M., Letts, L. (2006). Safety assessment of functional and the environment for rehabilitation- health outcome measurement and evaluation (SAFER-HOME), Version 3 manual. Toronto, ON: COTA Health.
Powell-Cope, G., Thomason, S., Bulat, T., Pippins, K. M., & Young, H. M. (2018).
Preventing falls and fall-related injuries at home: Teaching family caregivers about home modification and what to do if a fall occurs. American Journal of Nursing, 118(1), 58–61.