The Role of An Occupational Therapist in Covid-19
Not so long ago, when the Coronavirus pandemic was at its worst, many of us stood on our doorsteps, gardens and balconies in a weekly mass round of applause to show our appreciation for our UK nurses, carers, doctors and frontline staff. A small token to show that we were grateful for their hard work and dedication in helping us to fight the virus. Their bravery did not go unnoticed. But while many people have successfully fought COVID-19 and have managed to return back to normal life, for others, the harrowing affects have lingered far longer than they could have ever anticipated. The challenges following infection is frightening and many NHS Trusts have been quick to respond.
In 2020, the Chief Executive of NHS Trust England declared that £10 million was to be invested into UK clinics in order to help people suffering with this infection. With demand in rehabilitation quickly gaining momentum, organisations such as the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), began to develop dedicated post COVID-19 rehabilitation care, aimed solely at the needs of COVID-19 patients.
THE LONG ROAD TO RECOVERY
Breathlessness, extreme fatigue, headaches, insomnia, heart palpitations, depression and anxiety, joint or muscle pain, and cognitive impairment are just a few of the symptoms that many people are continuing to suffer long after the virus has left their bodies. Symptoms such as these are extensive and can lead to long-term health issues. These post-covid conditions, otherwise known as long COVID, affect people in different ways, for varying lengths of time. Even simple tasks, such as making a cup of tea or walking up the stairs, can suddenly be rendered impossible. According to the Office for National Statistics, as of 5th August 2021 long COVID is thought to occur in 1.46 per cent of the UK population (945,000), with symptoms lasting longer than a month.
Whether a person was hospitalised with COVID-19, or whether they didn’t and their symptoms were mild, makes little difference to who can experience long COVID. In a matter of days or weeks after first being infected with the virus, the day to day independence of a person can change dramatically.
HELP IS AT HAND
Occupational therapists are well-versed when working with people suffering with long COVID. If symptoms are largely impacting a person’s life, an occupational therapist can provide the rehabilitation needed whether it be physical, cognitive or psychological. Using their expertise and support, occupational therapists can help a patient who was either hospitalised, or remained at home during their illness, manage their symptoms effectively. Their assessment, treatment and advice is vital in the recovery of a patient, and as every case is different, the information is then gathered and fed back across the region.
Above: Occupational therapists help people reach a level of independence so they can live a full life.
The impact the virus can have on a person’s body and mind can be startling. Assisting people of all ages, background and medical diagnoses, who may have suffered a loss of coordination, strength and mobility as a direct result of COVID-19, or perhaps struggling with increased anxiety and isolation preventing them from engaging socially, are just a few of the ways in which an occupational therapist can help. From their initial assessment based on a person’s individual symptoms, the role of an occupational therapist is to understand their motivations and goals. Using the information gathered, they can build goals and plan activities in order to help a person recover. This can be achieved in-person or virtually. Following the effects of COVID-19, it is not unusual for an individual to suffer emotional distress due to hospitalisation, isolation, a loss of income or relationships, to feel that their quality of life is reduced. The impact of COVID-19 can be psychologically damaging, particularly to the elderly, so mindfulness approaches are implemented in order to help with motivational issues.
“I have found the pandemic to have had a huge impact on the elderly,” says occupational therapist, Kerry-Ann Roberts. “The elderly have faced increased isolation due to the lockdowns. People who were active prior to the COVID pandemic have become less mobile and have faced a cognitive decline. As an occupational therapist I am able to help people holistically, supporting them with both their social and physical needs.”
The role of an occupational therapist is vital in the recovery of a person’s life helping them to reach a level of independence so they can return back to their normal routines, and in some cases, back to work. Through an occupational therapists knowledge of health and well-being, individuals are guided on their road to recovery, until they return to leading a full life again.
“I love being an occupational therapist,” says Kerry-Ann. “I’m in a privileged position to enable people to be more independent and help them return home from hospital. My career is rewarding on a daily basis.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for an occupational therapist was high. They are crucial in helping individuals live their lives to the fullest, and through their treatment and guidance, help not only countless individuals, but release the pressure on other services too.
“Occupational therapists play a key role in supporting patients in returning to their normal activities,” says Kerry-Ann. “In doing this, occupational therapists help reduce the need to rely on carers and family for support.”
An occupational therapist’s understanding of health is paramount in ensuring the best outcome of an individual, and as this new virus continues to surprise us, their knowledge means they are uniquely placed in trying to understand it. Even today, with our restrictions recently being lifted and a significant amount of long COVID already hitting the younger age groups who have not been fully vaccinated, the demand for knowledge and rehabilitation is growing at lightning speed. As COVID-19 continues to cause havoc, an occupational therapist’s role is as fundamental as it’s ever been. They are vital in dealing with the impact of this pandemic, and just like our nurses, we need them now more than ever.
For more information on the role of occupational therapists, please visit the Royal College of Occupational Therapists at rcot.co.uk
By Leah Fielding – 23rd August 2021