OT’s Role in Neuro Rehabilitation
By: Gloria Rinonos, MS, OTR/L
The role of occupational therapists (OTs) is to improve health and participation of clients through engagement in occupation, which includes activities of daily living, instrumental activities of daily living, rest, education, work, play, leisure and social participation (American Occupational Therapy Association, 2018). In a neuro-rehabilitation setting, occupational therapists can treat a wide variety of conditions including traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, etc.
Neuro rehabilitation under the care of an occupational therapist consists of supporting and facilitating an individual to be as independent as possible in their daily life. This may involve focusing on improving reduced cognitive functions such as planning or memory, or it may be more focused on removing physical barriers to increase independence through well designed housing, “assistive” technology or equipment. Treatment sessions focus on engaging individuals in meaningful and purposeful activities in order to assist them in achieving their goals so they reach their optimal level of independence, productivity, and satisfaction. This allows the individual to have a sense of increased self-efficacy, purpose and wholeness (Kearney, McGowan, Anderson, Strosahl, 2007).
For example, if an occupational therapist were to be working with a stroke patient, the therapy sessions would focus on the multiple challenges a stroke patient can face, which include weakness on one side of the body, decline in cognitive and emotional functioning, social disability, inability to walk and care for themselves, and a decrease in community participation (Nilsen and Geller, 2018). Depending on the extent of the stroke, an occupational therapist services may include but are not limited to:
- Further retraining in self-care skills and adapting tasks or environments
- Appropriate use of adaptive equipment to maximize independence in activities of daily living (ADLs)
- Addressing ongoing deficits such as weakness, sensory loss, and cognitive or visual impairments
- Training in community reintegration and modifying tasks or environments
- Developing coping strategies to support psychosocial health and well-being (including relaxation techniques if appropriate)
OT during rehab focuses on ensuring the client will be as functional as possible after discharge, which often includes caregiver education and training. Overall, OT practitioners use their expertise in understanding the importance of emotional well-being, social connections and healthy life habits as well as activity analysis and adaptive methods to facilitate client’s performance of need or meaningful occupations to promote independence.
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68, S1–S48. doi:10.5014/ajot.2014.682006
Kearney, P., McGowan, T., Anderson, J., & Strosahl, D. (2018). The role of the occupational therapist on the neuro-rehab team. Acquired Brain Injury, 215-237.
Nilsen, D. & Geller, D. (2018). The role of occupational therapy in stroke rehabilitation. Retrieved from: