Occupational Therapy at Intrepid Spirit Centers

Occupational Therapy Room inside the Intrepid Spirit Center at Fort Campbell, KY.

Think about all of the things that you do on a daily basis. Making the bed, changing your clothes, brushing your teeth, cooking, working, sleeping. Sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause changes that affect a person’s ability to perform typically manageable physical tasks like these, along with complicating the cognitive and emotional elements that contribute to the completion of those tasks. Occupational Therapy (OT) can help a person relearn and modify their environment to put task-completion back within reach. We spoke to occupational therapists at some of our Intrepid Spirit Centers to hear first-hand how OT helps heal our heroes. This is what they had to say.

OT may not be as well-understood by the general public as other common treatments, in part because the word “occupational” isn’t as straightforward as something like physical, speech, or vision therapy. That’s because its focus is broader and more varied than many other therapies. OT aims to help a patient be as functional as possible in all aspects of daily life. Think of the “occupation” as anything a person does to occupy their time, or, as Dr. Muzna Ahmed, occupational therapist at the Intrepid Spirit Center at Fort Belvoir abbreviates it, “Adulting.” 

Part of what makes OT different is that there is no medicinal element. Medicine isn’t a part of the application of OT. Instead, it’s about finding alternatives to overcome new obstacles and exploring new ways to complete daily activities that have become more challenging. For example, if a patient is experiencing sleep issues, the focus might be sleep education, to help prime the brain for the critical restorative process of sleeping. 

Another unique element of OT at the Intrepid Spirit Centers, according to Dr. Ahmed, is the timetable they’re afforded. Previously, when working in the civilian sector, care and length of care were dictated largely by insurance. Critical elements of OT, like a proper sleep pattern, weren’t always able to be addressed in that window of time and would often take a back seat to physical and cognitive therapies. 

According to Rebecca Tupaj, occupational therapist at the Intrepid Spirit Concussion Recovery Center at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, common cognitive and emotional struggles observed in Intrepid Spirit patients include anxiety, depression, hypervigilance, varied sleep issues, and feelings of frustration that can turn to anger, limiting performance at work and relationships with family and friends. Symptoms can also manifest into physical pain such as headaches, which can compound the limitations that already exist for patients. 

Integration, collaboration, communication, and continuity of care are critical to all methods of treatment at the Intrepid Spirit Centers and OT is no exception. Ms. Tupaj shared that a highlight of the Intrepid Spirit model for her is that each week they have interdisciplinary team meetings that include a patient and all of their care providers in one room. Everyone comes together to check in on progress and ensure that each individual is getting the care that they require, uniquely tailored to them. Everyone is thoughtful, mindful, and focused on the best care possible for that one patient, in that moment. It’s all about recovery. 

Without OT at our Intrepid Spirit Centers, the interdisciplinary model of treating service members experiencing the effects of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress would simply be incomplete. As we’ve learned from these occupational therapists who see patients every day at these centers, there’s a fluidity to how OT applies to each patient, but it’s an essential component in the recovery process. Even though it may be more difficult to define, there can be no question that OT is critical in helping to heal our heroes. 

Posted on May 11 2020 in Blog

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