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Benefits of Occupational Therapy for People with Diabetes

Benefits of Occupational Therapy for People with Diabetes

  By: Editors at DiabetesIQ  |  Published: July 30, 2021   
Published: July 30, 2021   

Benefits of Occupational Therapy for People with DiabetesBenefits of Occupational Therapy for People with Diabetes
© Robert Kneschke | Dreamstime.com

Living with and managing diabetes is not an easy task. Even though diabetes complications can be prevented through self-management, maintaining control of the disease is challenging and can negatively affect the quality of life for patients of all ages.

Occupational therapy has the potential to assist people who live with diabetes and struggle with managing their disease in the context of everyday life. Studies have shown that occupational therapy may benefit young adults with diabetes, but patients of all ages can try it successfully. It has been shown that occupational therapy may improve blood glucose control as well as diabetes-related quality of life among young individuals with type I or type II diabetes.


How do occupational therapy practitioners help people with diabetes?

Occupational therapy practitioners can play an important role in diabetes self-management and education for individuals, who have already been diagnosed and for those who are likely to develop the disease. Since occupational therapists are experts at analyzing the patterns and performance skills necessary for people to engage in everyday occupations, they can effectively train and educate people, who are at risk of developing diabetes. They can help them modify their current routines and habits and develop new ones in order to minimize disease progression and promote a healthier lifestyle.

For example, occupational therapy practitioners can assist patients in developing concrete and achievable goals for diabetes management. Some behaviors, such as healthy eating, monitoring blood sugar levels, and taking medications, are self-explanatory, but others may not be as easy to put into practice.

Monitoring includes more than just blood glucose testing. People diagnosed with diabetes also need to track their blood pressure, health, weight, and the number of steps walked to make sure they get enough physical activity. 

Occupational therapists can analyze and modify how their patients perform their self-care tasks to achieve their goals in managing the disease successfully.


What are the main benefits of occupational therapy for people with diabetes?

Occupational therapists can play various roles when working with patients in order to help them prevent and manage diabetes. This is true not only for people who have just been diagnosed, but also for those who have developed a disability as a complication of diabetes.

Here are the main ways occupational therapy can help people with diabetes:

  • Promote healthy food choices to manage obesity and prevent individuals from gaining weight
  • Provide techniques to organize medications
  • Instruct in safe ways to incorporate physical activity and exercise into daily routines
  • Instruct in the use of devices to measure insulin
  • Educate patients to manage their condition and cope with depression. Solutions may include breaking down an exercise program on dietary changes into manageable steps and including them into daily routines.
  • Incorporate protective techniques for peripheral sensory loss in activities.


Who can benefit from occupational therapy?

Individuals who can benefit from occupational therapy range from those who already have diabetes and complications to those who would like to implement a healthier lifestyle to reduce the risk of developing diabetes. Patients of any age who live with diabetes can benefit from occupational therapy to address their specific needs.

Occupational therapy can be provided in various settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, or people’s homes. It can also be available through programs that focus on wellness and rehabilitation for complications of diabetes. Occupational therapy may sometimes be available in specialized settings such as a low-vision program or a diabetes clinic. 

Most of the time, services are available on a one-to-one basis, but they may also be offered within a group. While topics may differ from one occupational therapist from another, services may include oral instruction, hands-on experiences, demonstration, group activities, and role-playing.

Most of the time, occupational therapy practitioners develop a close relationship with their patients so therapists can help people prioritize their needs and accomplish their self-management goals.


What are some things that occupational therapy practitioners don’t do?

Even though occupational therapists can be diabetes educators, they cannot recommend changes in meal plans or medication. They also don’t provide instructions for using blood glucose meters, nor do they teach injection techniques. Occupational therapy practitioners can’t suggest appropriate blood glucose ranges, what to do on a sick day, or how to deal with persistent hypoglycemia. Patients need to consult their main healthcare provider, a nurse, or a dietitian for all these situations.


Bottom line

The focus of occupational therapy is health promotion, lifestyle modification, maximizing self-care independence and remediation of physical and visual impairments of people who have diabetes. Occupational therapy practitioners typically focus on helping patients take charge of their condition so people can enjoy a good quality of life and participate in a wide range of everyday activities.

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