The Role of Occupational Therapy in Neurological Disorders


Occupational Therapy is a critical aspect of caring for patients with neurologic disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and recovery from a stroke. As we recognize national Occupational Therapy Month in April, we also celebrate the role occupational therapists play in helping people with neurologic disorders live their life to the fullest.

Annette Erickson, OT/L, CLT, LSVT, an occupational therapist at St. Elizabeth Healthcare with specialized training in treating patients with Parkinson’s as well as specialized training in lymphedema therapy, explains the role she plays in her patient’s lives. “Occupational therapy takes an approach to caring for the whole patient. We examine not only their disability and how it has affected their life physically, but we also look at how it has affected their mind and their life.”

Annette is also certified in Lee Silverman Voice Treatment or LSVT. This is a specialized treatment program that helps patients with neurological disorders reacclimate to performing everyday tasks. Neurology patients typically move differently, and their motors skills become slower and smaller over time. Trouble with fine motor skills such as buttoning a shirt, or large motor skills such as rising from a sofa are tasks that can be improved with LSVT. The treatment program will look different for each patient as the LVST treatment is built for the patient’s specific needs and goals. Overall, the program will improve balance and self-care tasks.

Patients who have a neurologic disorder or are recovering from a stroke benefit from a team approach to care including an occupational therapist, a physical therapist and a speech therapist. Each area offers expertise to help a patient advance and achieve more independence in daily life.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapy focuses on helping you develop the necessary skills planned around your specific needs and goals.

Annette says, “It is important for me to do a full assessment and determine how your disease is affecting you in your role, whether it be as an employee, spouse or friend. How is it limiting your work, hobbies, and even your social life?”

During an assessment, the occupational therapist will determine how the disease is limiting your normal functioning and what your goals are for treatment. Every patient has different goals from driving, to going to the bathroom by yourself, or holding your grandchild. After goals are established, the Occupational Therapist works with you to create a plan to help you reach those goals, including:

  • Activities of daily living.
  • Exercises or stretches to gain strength.
  • Cognitive skills to help complete tasks and solve problems.
  • Making the environment around you safe.
  • Recommending physical aides or durable medical equipment.

“We use a variety of tools and therapies to help people achieve their goals. We also create a plan which provides encouragement and success as they achieve milestones,” says Annette. “We also help patients through the disease process, not just at diagnosis. With any neurologic disorder recovery changes—you get stronger, or you have plateaus—we help you every step of the way.”

Outpatient Neurology Interventions and Stroke Therapy Program

At St. Elizabeth Healthcare, patients with neurologic disorders receive treatment at the Outpatient Neurology Interventions and Stroke Therapy program. Through a coordinated visit, you will see all therapists taking part in your recovery—occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech therapists.

Annette says, “we recognize that each patient has unique situations that can make getting to therapy difficult, so we do our best to coordinate therapies each visit for the convenience of the patient.”

As an occupational therapist, Annette appreciates the special relationship she builds with each patient. “It makes your heart sing when someone reaches a place of accomplishment—they are doing something that makes them happy. Recovery can be a long road, so we get to know our patients, we understand what makes them tick and we recognize if they are having a bad day.”

Annette became an occupational therapist so she could facilitate change in the lives of others. She says, “Making someone’s life better is an amazing gift to be able to give. Occupational therapy allows me to have a lasting impact on the lives of others.”

Learn more about our occupational therapy team online or call Central Scheduling at (859) 655-7400 to make an appointment.