Occupational therapist helps with daily living

March 16, 1994|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Special To the Sun

Caroline Ardissone used to put on her shoes and stockings without a struggle, but when the 80-year-old Columbia resident suffered a stroke 1 1/2 years ago, that simple task became an obstacle.

Today, thanks to a long rod with a hook on the end of it, known as a "dressing stick," Mrs. Ardissone has mastered putting on her shoes and stockings by herself.

She also uses a "reacher," a long rod with suction cups, to grasp objects; a "walker bag," which holds mail and other objects and frees up Mrs. Ardissone's hands to maneuver a walker; and a memory log book that she uses to write down things she needs to remember from day to day.

Before her stroke, Mrs. Ardissone had not known so many helpful items existed; her occupational therapist recommended them.

Spreading the word about such devices is one of the jobs of Pam Vogel, a registered occupational therapist with Horizon Health & Rehabilitation, Inc. in Columbia.

Recently, Ms. Vogel met at Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia with the staff of Winter Growth Adult Day Care Center in Columbia, discussing a wide range of what occupations therapists call "assistive devices."

The presentation was sponsored by Operation Independence, a project started in 1992 by the Howard County Office on Aging.

Operation Independence is comprised of several health-related organizations, including the Howard County Office of Disability Services and the Occupational Therapy Department of the Howard County General Hospital.

The project works to increase the independence of people with disabilities by letting them know about occupational therapy and assistive devices.

Toward that end, Operation Independence offers educational workshops to groups, including health care providers, care-givers and seniors with disabilities.

So far, it has presented about 25 workshops at such locations as the Florence Bain Senior Center in Columbia, nutrition sites in the county and health care facilities."

"We want to educate staff people as to what kinds of things they can look for and to determine when an occupational therapy assessment may be necessary," said Phyllis Madachy, assistant administrator for the Howard County Office on Aging, who is chairman of the steering committee of Operation Independence.

The recent workshop at Florence Bain, for example, featured such devices as from scissors that spring open and key holders that make it easier for those with limited range of motion to get the key into the lock.

Assistive devices range widely in price, from $3.50 for a drinking straw holder to $1,650 for an electric self-feeder that enables people without the use of their arms to feed themselves at their own speed.

In addition to helping people with severe disabilities, Ms. Madachy said that Operation Independence also wants to focus on "people who are having functional problems because of an aging process."

She cited, for example, people who are having vision problems and are gradually giving up certain activities because of that. She advises such clients to seek a physician who will determine the need for an assessment by an occupational therapist.

"Those folks were not in a hospital or acute care center, and it would be unlikely that they would be encountering occupational therapists," she said.

Further information about Operation Independence is available by calling Adult Community Evaluation Services at 410-313-7250.

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