Movement Matters: Occupational Therapy for Neurological Conditions

April 29, 2019

Any neurological condition – including stroke or brain injury; dementia or Parkinson’s Disease – can impact a person’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis.

For people experiencing functional impairments due to a neurological condition, Occupational Therapy (OT), can help enhance their independence and overall quality of life. OT focuses heavily on what are called ADLs (Activities of Daily Living, such as getting dressed and bathing) and IADLs (Instrumental Activities of Daily Living, such as cooking and cleaning). It also incorporates functional mobility, work, leisure, education, social participation, and play.

At Jefferson Health in New Jersey, Occupational Therapists Beth Miskovsky, Andrea Walk, and Kristen Higgins, routinely care for patients recovering from stroke or managing Parkinson’s Disease, as well as those with dementia, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and traumatic brain injury. 

Patients’ ability to undertake these common daily activities, including getting out of bed or using the toilet, as well as more complex tasks requiring fine motor skills, can vary greatly.

“Recovering from stroke can make everything feel like a challenge. Some patients can no longer dress, bathe, or drive to the store,” explains Andrea. “Often, they need a lot of balance, strength, and cognitive training to increase their independence. Some patients will also need modifications or special equipment to achieve various tasks.”

“OT can also improve cognitive impairments – related to short or long-term memory, processing skills, and attention – that result from certain neurological conditions,” said Beth. “Learning to manage a checkbook is a task often practiced.”

Parkinson’s patients commonly experience tremors, small and stiff movements, and difficulty speaking. Because the disease is highly progressive, it’s important to be proactive with treatment.

“We work a lot with coordination and balance, trying to reduce rigidity in movements,” Beth explains. “A patient with Parkinson’s may experience a ‘motor block’ and their body begins to ‘freeze’ while moving. We work with them to improve fluidity in their movements.”

While there is no known cure for Parkinson’s, the specialized LSVT BIG & LOUD® treatment programs can help patients combat difficulties and deterioration.

BIG therapy focuses on increased large limb movements, making improvements to endurance, balance, speed of movement, and overall quality of life. Kristen, LSVT BIG-certified, offers the intensive treatment option to qualified patients, who participate four days a week, for four weeks. Patients are also given instruction on how to use the program at home, during and after treatment.

“Depending on the severity of the disease, patients can complete exercises either laying down, sitting, or standing,” explained Kristen. “This program really helps them learn to practice movements on a larger scale, before scaling them back down.”

Physical and cognitive deficits aren’t the only set-backs that people with neurological conditions face; they also experience emotional challenges.

“It’s not uncommon that these patients become depressed and lose motivation. In some cases, they lose confidence and become overly dependent on others for help, even if they can do more for themselves,” said Andrea. “Identifying the signs of depression early on and contacting the physician can help improve a patient’s progress.”

OT can be highly beneficial to neurological patients, no matter where they are along the road to recovery. Patients can also return for additional treatment, over time, if they regress. Studies show that, in many cases, movement is key in lessening the need for medication, improving functional ability, and allowing the patient to once again, be themselves.

For more information on occupational therapy services offered at Jefferson Health in New Jersey, click HERE.