Knowing the difference between occupational therapy vs physical therapy can help you understand the services your loved one needs.  It also helps to understand how Medicare interacts with each of these services but we will save that for a later post.

What is the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy?

Physical Therapy (PT)--Physical Therapy often focuses on restoring the muscle groups after an injury or surgery.  For example with a hip fracture, the goal is to assist the patient to return to prior level of function (PLOF).  In general physical therapists deal with the large groups of muscles.  In a skilled nursing facility in particular, the difference between occupation therapy vs physical therapy is that physical therapy will deal primarily with the lower extremities (legs) while occupational therapy will focus on the upper extremities (arms).   In physical therapy your loved one will do a fair amount of work with specialty devices such as exercise bikes, parallel bars, etc…

Occuptational Therapy (OT)–Occupational Therapy does not necessarily deal with one’s occupation.  This therapy discipline focuses on everyday functional skills such as taking a shower, dressing, working with pills, etc…   They also specialize in the use of adaptive equipment when there is a shortfall of an ability to care for oneself.  A loved one may use some exercise equipment such as an arm bike but most of OT will concentrate on using regular household items.

The disciplines of physical therapy and occupational therapy also work closely with speech therapy.

What do speech therapists do?

Speech Therapy–Speech therapy is not necessarily focused on talking, although this is the case in working with younger people.  For the geriatric population in particular, the main focus is on helping with swallowing and feeding issues.  They too can provide adaptive equipment to help create independence with these issues.  They can also troubleshoot problems that may be occurring.

When your loved one is a patient they most likely will be assigned to both OT and PT.  If your loved on has swallowing issues, you can also ask for Speech Therapy though overall it will reduce the amount of time that PT and OT can assist your loved one.  The reason I will put in the next post of Understanding Therapy and Medicare Services.  But for now, knowing the difference of occupational therapy vs physical therapy can help you understand what the target of their therapy is intended for with your loved one.  If you have any questions, please post below.