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Occupational therapy can do the job

Occupational therapist Catherine Henry-Polchinski works with her patient

Occupational therapist Catherine Henry-Polchinski works with her patient Dr. Charles Walker on his fine motor coordination. Credit: Janet Charles

Patients recovering after a serious illness or other medical incident often need temporary home health care to facilitate their recuperation. While most adults have a good understanding of how physical therapy can help them get back on their feet, fewer are aware that occupational therapy also can help. Many who have heard the term believe it has something to do with getting back to work.

"I get this statement all the time: 'I'm retired, I don't need occupational therapy,' " says Catherine Henry-Polchinski, a Nassau County-based occupational therapist with the not-for-profit Visiting Nurse Service of New York.

In fact, occupational therapy, as part of a home health services treatment plan, teaches patients how to resume their daily activities. Take the example of a senior who suffers an injury in a fall. After a doctor signs a certification form that states the senior is homebound and requires temporary home health services, Medicare generally will cover in-home visits from an occupational therapist. The therapist will evaluate the senior and the home to see why the fall occurred to help prevent a recurrence. After talking with and observing the senior, the occupational therapist will make recommendations. The advice can be as basic as asking how they get dressed in the morning. "If they're sitting on the edge of the bed, that's a key they're going to have another fall," Henry-Polchinski says. "You need to get dressed in a chair with arms."

Henry-Polchinski offers advice to her patients on an array of issues, from decluttering a home to rearranging items in kitchen drawers and cabinets to help minimize the risk they will hurt their back, strain their joints or fall while trying to retrieve something on a shelf. "Don't overreach or overbend," she advises. "Place your items within arms' reach."

Medicare will generally cover nine weeks of occupational therapy as part of a doctor-certified home health plan, and visits from an occupational therapist do not disqualify a patient from also having physical therapy.

For more information about occupational therapy services from the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, call 800-675-0391 or go to The American Occupational Therapy Association offers a consumer guide at

aota-consumerguide. And "Medicare and Home Health," a free 32-page booklet from Medicare, can be downloaded at or obtained by calling 800-633-4227.

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