The Role of Occupational Therapy in Skilled Nursing Facilities

Occupational therapy is one of the most important and fulfilling parts of an individual’s stay at a skilled nursing facility (SNF). If performed well, it can fill a resident’s day with engaging activities that improve their psychological well-being while helping them develop the functional skills they need to regain their independence.

Occupational therapists in skilled nursing facilities work with short- and long-term residents experiencing a variety of health conditions. While the type of occupational therapy conducted will vary depending on the resident and their unique needs, the overarching goal of occupational therapy is always the same: to help individuals improve their quality of life.

What Is the Role of Occupational Therapy in Skilled Nursing Facilities?

Although the value of occupational therapy in nursing homes and other facilities is now widely understood, many people still lack an in-depth understanding of an occupational therapist’s role and day-to-day responsibilities.

Occupational therapists typically begin their work by meeting with the resident and possibly the resident’s family to discuss and outline the goals of the resident’s treatment. These goals address the resident’s current physical barriers and the level of functionality they hope to achieve through occupational therapy. Some residents may hope to once again play tennis or go on a jog, while others turn to therapy to help them accomplish day-to-day activities like walking down the hall, bathing, and preparing a meal.

Once a resident’s goals have been established, the therapist will develop a customized treatment plan. While no two treatment plans are identical, many of their elements are the same. For occupational therapists working with short-term residents in a SNF, occupational therapy may involve:

  • Conducting exercises that address the instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) that a resident must be able to perform to be able to live independently.
  • Teaching residents how to perform old tasks in new ways, like how to prepare a meal while using an ambulatory device.
  • Preparing the resident and their family for community reintegration through emergency response planning, strategies for public outings, and more.
  • Recommending safety equipment and home modifications to promote safe functioning and reduce barriers following the resident’s discharge from the facility.
  • Assessing whether a resident can continue working and in what capacity.
  • Evaluating the resident’s current hobbies and assessing whether modifications are needed for continued participation.

For long-term residents of skilled nursing facilities, occupational therapy focuses on teaching residents the skills they need to ensure greater independence within a facility, rather than helping them attain the skills needed to function outside of one. Occupational therapists in these roles will often:

  • Conduct training in functional mobility, including how to perform self-care tasks and safely move from the bed to the shower and beyond.
  • Educate residents on the use of ambulatory devices as well as wheelchair mobility and safety.
  • Enhance a resident’s ability to perform ADLs to the greatest extent possible.
  • Develop compensatory techniques for residents with specific challenges, including cognitive and visual impairment.
  • Modify a resident’s personal living space within the facility to increase their safety.
  • Create opportunities for residents to engage in meaningful activities despite their physical limitations.

Why Is Occupational Therapy Important in Skilled Nursing Facilities?

Whether performing occupational therapy for geriatric residents or young adults, occupational therapists play an instrumental role in skilled nursing facilities. The combination of emotional support and functional skill development they provide can be extremely empowering for many residents, helping them increase their independence, achieve new goals, and improve their quality of life.

From a skilled nursing facility’s perspective, the programs that occupational therapists design and implement to promote residents’ health and improve building safety and functionality are invaluable. High-intensity occupational therapy during rehabilitation at a skilled nursing facility is also associated with shorter stays and significant functional improvement, helping boost a facility’s reputation. For some patients, occupational therapy even helps reduce their chances of hospital readmission.

Enhance Your Occupational Therapy Skills

Occupational therapists play an important role in skilled nursing facilities, home health organizations, and other healthcare settings. Like many other healthcare services, high-quality occupational therapy involves a combination of continuing education (CE) and training. With the right skills and insights, occupational therapists can dramatically transform patients’ lives and position their facilities for success.

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Jeff Sandstrom

Strategic Product Marketing Manager for Post-Acute Care, Relias

Jeff Sandstrom is the Strategic Product Marketing Manager for Post-Acute Care at Relias. He's a passionate advocate for e-learning, wound care education, and clinical and behavioral assessments in post-acute care settings. Jeff holds a Bachelor of Science of Business and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Minnesota.

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