Back to Daily Life
Erlene Darcy was in the midst of helping an elderly aunt attend a funeral when she fell, breaking her arm in three places. “No sooner had I warned my aunt who was wearing high heels about the sand and debris on the sidewalk then I fell. And I was wearing flats!” she says in exasperation. Erlene ended up breaking a bone in her elbow and two in her wrist, requiring the placement of pins and a wire to her arm. The good news is that after only a few weeks of occupational therapy at Milford Regional’s rehabilitation location in Whitinsville, this 65-year-old resident of Uxbridge is seeing positive results.
The goal of occupational therapy, commonly called OT, is to help people return to or regain their daily occupations and activities. “Most people are familiar with physical therapy or PT,” explains Denise Simoneau, OTR/L, occupational therapy supervisor. “It’s what gets people up and moving. OT is what gets people doing things they need to, once they are up and moving.” There is a broad range of patients who are helped by this rehabilitative service. Occupational therapy works with patients who are affected by disease, injury, mental illness, surgery, and disability. Hand and overuse injures, arthritis, neurological disorders, and splint design/fabrication are among the most common reasons why patients seek occupational therapy.
For Erlene, there was never a doubt of where she needed to go to rehabilitate her arm. “This is my third time seeing the therapists at the Whitinsville office,” she points out. “I received treatment for both a shoulder problem and foot problem. I know all the therapists by name and they’re all wonderful. They really listen and try to pinpoint the right therapy for whatever your problem is. They’re really good about adjusting the treatment to your specific needs. If one part of my arm is especially sore they’ll work on it more or try a different therapy.” When Erlene broke her arm, she describes it as feeling foreign to her, not looking or feeling like her own. Occupational therapist Catherine Yost, OTR/L, is working with Erlene to return her arm to feeling normal again. “We’re using different modalities to increase Erlene’s arm strength, range of motion, and reduce her pain,” she outlines. “So far, her therapy has included paraffin wax for heat, gentle stretching exercises, massage, cold laser therapy and exercises with weights. We’ve also given her instructions to do certain exercises at home.”
A crucial ingredient to all occupational therapy is an evaluation of how well a person can participate in activities of daily living or ADLs. ADLs include everyday things like dressing, driving, writing, showering and working. Occupational therapy focuses on helping people participate in their everyday activities. This might mean teaching a patient a new way to perform a task, fitting an arthritic joint with a protective splint, starting an exercise program to build strength around an injury or providing special equipment like a raised toilet seat after hip surgery. “It’s all about returning a patient to their life’s roles, whatever they may be,” Catherine states. “That’s our focus. Our therapy is very personalized to the patient’s goals. For Erlene, it meant helping her get back to driving, cooking and knitting.”
Erlene’s most important goal was to return to driving. “I’m right handed and when I broke that arm it was hard to drive,” she recalls. “Losing my independence was frightening because I couldn’t start my car with my broken arm. But in just three weeks I’ve made some great progress. Now, I can start my car with my left hand and grip the steering wheel and shift with my right hand. Even better is that the pain is way down, about half of what it was.”
Rehabilitation & Sports Medicine of Milford Regional is made up of OT, PT and speech therapy. It is not unusual for a patient to require all three services concurrently. “We often work as a team to get a patient to where he or she wants to be,” Denise explains. “Since we share the same office space, it’s easy to communicate with other team members about what is working for a patient or if there is a particular goal to concentrate on.” Erlene has benefited from this team approach and learned something as well. “There’s one thing I’ve learned,” she states resolutely, “which is that you can’t do it all by yourself.”
For more information about Milford Regional’s occupational therapy program, please call the location nearest you.