Occupational Therapy's Role in Pressure Sore Management

Woman having occupational therapy

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When your loved one develops a pressure sore, your occupational therapist (OT) can play a critical role in his or her treatment. An OT is uniquely trained to identify and provide holistic solutions to prevent or reduce pressure ulcer incidence.

The common goal of occupational therapy is to increase a person’s functional independence and quality of life. When someone suffers a completely avoidable wound such as a pressure ulcer, this can dramatically increase the recovery time and require extended bed rest as the only viable treatment option. In such cases, an OT must consider the emotional impact of treatment as well as the physical ones.

OT Training

Not all OTs are created equal. Some OTs devote their entire careers solely to the management of pressure sores. Others have only a generalist's knowledge. To find the best OT possible, it's important to understand how OTs are trained in the United States.

In truth, the accreditation standard for OT schools is relatively low insofar a pressure sore management is concerned. To attain accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), students must have a generalist’s knowledge of OT and an entry-level competency in OT techniques. At the very least, your OT should understand the nature of pressure sores and how certain activities contributed to their development.

Many OTs gain knowledge simply by working in settings where pressure sores are prevalent. They may also participate in continuing medical education (CME) in pressure sores or conduct independent research on the topic. Some OTs opt for certification in areas related to pressure sores such as a Seating and Mobility Specialist (ATP/SMS).

The best way to learn about your OT’s experience is to start by asking them. You can learn the basics to help get that conversation going.

Treatment Interventions

Occupational therapists can be involved in pressure sore management from the initial assessment of risk to treatment and follow-up. Here are some common interventions:

  • Assess the root cause of the sore, especially how the patient’s participation (or lack of participation) in activities contributed to the development of the sore
  • Assess how the pressure sore may be limiting their participation in day-to-day living and quality of life
  • Provide wound care
  • Recommend wheelchairs, cushions, mattresses, and other equipment
  • Provide education to clients and family members about pressure sore management
  • Provide treatment for managing incontinence (as moisture can be a major contributor to pressure sore development)
  • Assess nutritional intake
  • Set a schedule for repositioning/mobility and implement a strategy for it to be carried out
  • Provide education and support to staff

Effectiveness

OTs are involved in what is known as conservative management of pressure ulcers, which is especially effective for pressure ulcers caught in the early stages. As pressure sores are such pervasive issues, new and insightful interventions are being explored to further speed recovery in those at greatest risk of harm.

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