Exploring Occupational Therapy in Alzheimer Scotland: a student’s perspective

What is Occupational Therapy?

One of the challenges facing occupational therapists in daily practice is that, in general, people don’t know what it is that we do. When people learn that I am studying occupational therapy, they frequently adopt a confused expression and ask more questions about what an occupational therapist does. To help people understand my role, I often compare occupational therapy to physiotherapy since people tend to have an understanding of this role.

So, generally speaking, physiotherapists work with a person to improve their physical ability, perhaps following an injury or surgery for example. Occupational therapists work with people to further develop their skills in real life situations that they will find useful in everyday tasks. For example, a physiotherapist may work on a person’s range of movement using physical exercises and the occupational therapist will work with the person to use or maintain this range of movement to move around their kitchen and make themselves a meal or a hot drink. An occupational therapist can work in almost any setting with people of any age to overcome whatever barriers may be preventing them from doing the things that are meaningful to them. These barriers may be physical, psychological or both. An occupational therapist may introduce the person to new ways of doing things or provide them with assistive equipment to help them.

For more information on Occupational Therapy check out:

https://www.cot.co.uk/about-ot/about-ot

What did you do on your placement with Alzheimer Scotland?

This placement was different to my previous experiences where my role was prescribed, or already established, within a certain field. Within Alzheimer Scotland, I was given the opportunity to experience a range community settings including the homes of people living with dementia, local cafes, places of worship, educational institutions and hospitals. I was free to choose how I worked, along with team members, identifying people I thought would benefit from occupational therapy input. In doing so, I created some basic occupational therapy assessment paperwork and created a few sensory resources. I also helped to facilitate an art group, visited local buildings and gave advice on how to make them dementia-friendly.

For my main project, in order to meet my course targets, I worked with children at a local Primary School to develop activity sheets aimed at helping other children understand dementia. Every setting was different but I don’t think I would have had these opportunities or experiences on other placements and I very much enjoyed the work I did.

Throughout this placement I used social media (Twitter and Pinterest) to promote occupational therapy, to gather resources and see what other professionals or people are saying about dementia. This was totally new to me but I think it is a great way to communicate with other professionals and to promote good practice. I won’t speak more about the use of social media as there is another posting on this blog by one of the Alzheimer Scotland occupational therapy interns, Christopher Cousins, regarding the use of social media in healthcare.

What do you see as the benefits of role-emerging placements for AHP students?

I think most occupational therapy students would agree with me when I say that the clinical placements we undertake as students affect the knowledge and skills that we graduate with, and influence our career path within occupational therapy.

Occupational therapists can work in such a wide variety of settings that it is next to impossible for us to study each setting or subject in great detail. By undertaking my placement with Alzheimer Scotland I have had the opportunity to work in the community with many lovely people, carers and families from various cultural backgrounds; I feel that I have increased my own knowledge and understanding of dementia and my personal experience of working with people living well with dementia, their families and carers. Having explored a range of services provided in the community, I feel better equipped to help people access appropriate services – for the person living with dementia and their families and carers.

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I have learnt on this placement that not only can Alzheimer Scotland offer a person additional supports but that I should consider other third sector services, what they offer and if I can I refer to them or guide the people, carers I work with towards them in addition to social services.

As a result of the freedom and independence I was given in Alzheimer Scotland, I have definitely gained confidence in myself as an occupational therapist. I was able to go into a setting that doesn’t currently have occupational therapy, and work towards establishing a new service. This makes me wonder where else I could use my occupational therapy profession?

What’s Next?

To other occupational therapists, students and others out there:

  • have you experienced a role-emerging job or placement?
  • where would you like to see occupational therapy in the future?
  • what other possibilities do you see for our profession?

Thanks for reading my post. I hope it has given you some insight into the benefits of AHP students undertaking role-emerging placements in Alzheimer Scotland and encourages you to think about the possibilities of AHP practice within third sector services and beyond.

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Nicola Walker, Alzheimer Scotland AHP (Allied Health Professionals) Student

@VwNicola

I am currently a 4th year occupational therapy student at Queen Margaret University. I recently finished an 8-week, role-emerging AHP placement with Alzheimer Scotland.

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4 thoughts on “Exploring Occupational Therapy in Alzheimer Scotland: a student’s perspective

    • Hi Judy Ling- thank you for taking the time to comment on my post and for your kind comment. This was a brilliant experience for me to undertake at this level in my studies because it has sort of sparked a ‘What if?’ type feeling in me. I think I will be a little more creative in my thinking about how I might use the skills I’ve gained as an OT student to explore where else I could work and who with. As a retired OT, do you have any words of wisdom to pass on to students like myself who are about to venture into the next stage of our OT journey?

  1. Hello Nicola, I was so pleased to see that you had an opportunity to work with people with dementia under the umbrella of Alzheimer Scotland and it sounds like you grabbed the challenge with both hands. I am a retired OT and wished that I wasn’t when I read your post … I had to retire due to body not keeping up with brain a few years ago ! I do hope that you make your career in enabling people with dementia type illness and supporting their carers. Our profession has much more to offer in this field and think that this is gradually being realized through contributions like yours. Good luck and best wishes.

    • Hi Jenny, thank you for taking the time to comment on my post. The experience really has opened my eyes to the possibility of how I could use my skills and training in Occupational Therapy. I think there is so much potential for the Occupational Therapists but we, as a group, need to become more verbal and put ourselves out there to experience, explore and make a difference in a variety of new settings as well as those where the profession is already established! I really enjoyed my placement with Alzheimer Scotland and can definitely see myself working in this type setting and with people in their own communities in the future. Can I also just say that it is lovely that both you and Judy from a previous comment are still following things to do with Occupational Therapy even though you are both retired- it gives me hope that this is a career choice where those involved continue to remain passionate about their work. Thanks again for your lovely comment.

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