OT Solutions: Adaptive Equipment

Adaptive Equipment (AE) are pieces of equipment to compensate for a physical limitation, promote safety, and promote independence. They are used to facilitate completion of daily activities such as dressing, feeding, bathing, grooming, and functional mobility. One may also hear the term “assistive device;” these terms are often used interchangeably.

Pieces of adaptive equipment include, but are not limited to:

  • Dressing: long-handled shoehorn, sock aid, button hook and reacher
  • Bathing: long-handled sponge
  • Feeding: plate guards, cup adaptors, and built-up handles on utensils
  • Home management: ergonomic knives and adapted cutting board with side rails and prongs to stabilize foods
  • Additional pieces include: universal cuffs, doorknob extensions, and bed transfer devices.

Some patients may require the use of AE due to precautions put in place after an injury or surgery. For example, a sock aid, reacher, and long handled shoe horn are provided to individuals after a hip replacement to allow for increased independence with lower body dressing.

Pieces of AE are used in energy conservation and safety. For individuals with decreased balance, trunk stability, dizziness, or poor vision, a reacher is beneficial to eliminate the need to reach outside of their base of support to retrieve an item.  Additionally, too much bending and reaching can cause fatigue and shortness of breath. Utilizing pieces of AE can eliminate the need to bend/reach, and therefore allow for energy conservation during dressing tasks.

Adaptive equipment may also be used in conjunction with mobility devices, such as adding platform crutches and/or enlarged grips on walkers to comply with a non-weightbearing status or prevent further stress on joints.

Occupational therapists will carefully assess performance and collaborate which pieces may likely benefit an individual’s participation in their daily tasks. It may take lots of practice, patience, and trial and error as an individual learns to use a piece of adaptive equipment.

Occupational therapists will educate patients on how to use equipment with strategies and techniques based off of an individual’s needs and learning style. An occupational therapist will also collaborate with a patient’s interprofessional team, families, and/or guardians to allow for best follow through for use of the equipment.

Maggie Webber, OTD, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist in the Senior Living setting but has experience with clients of all ages, from pediatric to geriatric. Her area of expertise are in General Occupational Therapy, Cardiac Critical Care Unit, Neurology & Neurotrauma ICU, Trauma & Trauma ICU Colorectal Surgery, Infectious Diseases, Dementia, and Parkinson’s Disease. Maggie believes in building positive, lasting relationships with her patients to help them reach their goals.

Debunking Occupational Therapy Myths

In celebration of Occupational Therapy Month this April, we want to debunk some common misconceptions about this vital profession.

Myth #1: Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy are Interchangeable

While both Occupational Therapists (OTs) and Physical Therapists (PTs) utilize their expertise in health science to administer therapeutic exercises and hands-on care for similar conditions, it’s crucial to recognize their distinct objectives. A commonly used analogy highlights the difference between the two disciplines: physical therapy helps you walk to the door, while occupational therapy helps you open the door. PT aims to enhance mobility, focusing on aspects such as range of motion, coordination, muscle strength, and pain management. OT helps you “open the door” by focusing on skills development and environmental adaptations for activities of daily living.

Myth #2: Occupational Therapists Only Help with Employment

While OTs can help a person use ergonomics at work to avoid injury, occupational therapy extends far beyond employment-related concerns. The field revolves around the concept of “occupations,” which encompasses a broad spectrum of activities essential to daily life. Whether it’s parenting, socializing, pursuing hobbies, or managing household tasks, OT helps individuals regain, maintain, or adapt essential skills. Occupations form the fabric of an individual’s existence and occupational therapy intervenes when disruptions occur due to injury, illness, or disability.

Myth #3: Occupational Therapy is Only for Certain Age Groups

Another misconception surrounding OT is its purported limitation to certain age demographics. In reality, OT intervention spans the entire lifespan, catering to individuals from infancy to old age. Pediatric OTs play a crucial role in fostering early development, assisting infants in bonding, exploration, and acquiring foundational skills critical for future growth. Geriatric OTs provide invaluable support to seniors grappling with age-related challenges such as vision impairment or cognitive decline, enabling them to maintain independence and quality of life.

Moreover, occupational therapy extends its reach beyond individual therapy sessions, with practitioners actively engaging in community-based initiatives targeting diverse populations and societal issues. These initiatives encompass promoting healthy behaviors, facilitating community transitions, addressing homelessness, supporting mental health, and tackling addiction, underscoring the breadth and versatility of OT’s impact across various age groups and societal contexts.

Myth #4: Occupational Therapy Only Occurs in Medical Settings

Occupational therapy services are available in a multitude of settings, including clients’ homes, community venues like community centers and shelters, hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, schools, and more. These services are adaptable and can be delivered wherever individuals engage in their daily activities, ensuring accessibility and support across different environments.

OT practitioners also serve as consultants and experts in diverse fields such as health information technology, human-centered design, community health initiatives, education (including schools and higher education), health promotion programs, driving rehabilitation, and beyond.

This month, Tx:Team celebrates the remarkable dedication and tireless efforts of our OTs and COTAs who strive to make profound and lasting differences in the lives of their patients every single day, all year round. Your unwavering commitment to enhancing the quality of life for those you serve fills us with profound gratitude. Thank you for being the driving force behind positive change and for embodying the true essence of compassionate care!

Source: American Occupational Therapy Association (aota.org)

Tennis Elbow? Golfer’s Elbow? I Don’t Play Sports!

My doctor diagnosed me with tennis elbow and/or golfer’s elbow, but I don’t play those sports. How is that possible? 

Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) and golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) are two common injuries associated with the elbow. They are both caused by playing sports or doing repetitive motions (gripping, pulling, grasping, and lifting) with the affected arm. Some common functional activities that could cause these injuries include tennis, golfing, painting, throwing a ball, and heavy lifting.

Over time, these repetitive motions will cause wear and tear of the tendons at the elbow and place strain on the muscles.

What are symptoms that someone may experience that would trigger the problem being tennis elbow? 

With both lateral and medial epicondylitis, the primary symptom is pain at either the lateral or medial elbow. Other common symptoms can include tenderness with palpation to either the forearm extensor or flexor muscle units, aching elbow in the evening, and elbow stiffness in the morning. Sensation deficits are not associated with either of these injuries and is an entirely different injury.

How are these injuries treated?  

A majority of these injuries are treated conservatively. Doctors can prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication along with a steroid injection to the painful area(s). Doctors can also refer a patient to see an occupational or physical therapist to have symptoms addressed.

An occupational therapist or a physical therapist will work with each patient to develop a personalized treatment plan that includes:

  • stretching
  • manual therapy techniques
  • education
  • home exercises
  • activity modification
  • strength training
  • custom orthosis

Are there risk factors for one person to get more than another?

Yes, there are certain activities that can exacerbate symptoms. Those activities include anything that leads to overuse of the forearm extensor and flexors (heavy repetition, poor posture, forceful grasp, etc.).

The incidence for lateral and medial epicondylitis is greatest between 35-55 years old (men and women are affected equally). If an individual is younger than 35 and experiencing symptoms, a screen should be completed for additional causes.

Can you prevent tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow?

There is no way to prevent lateral or medial epicondylitis, but there are ways to decrease your chances of having this injury. Those ways include having proper posture, avoiding repetitive motions, avoiding forceful grasping.

If you suspect Tennis Elbow, Golfer’s Elbow or any problem with your arm, find a Physical or Occupational Therapist in your area to start the program you need to get back to the activities you enjoy.


Joshua Eppinger, MOT, OTR/L received his Bachelor of Arts in Human Performance & Health and his Master of Occupational Therapy from West Virginia University.  Joshua’s professional interests are Orthopedics and Hand Therapy. He has experience and training in the evaluation and treatment of post-surgical and non-surgical diagnoses. Josh’s experience includes a variety of conditions pertaining to the hand and upper extremities including  fractures, dislocations, sprains, torn ligaments, Tennis Elbow, Golfer’s Elbow, as well as multiple other diagnoses of the hand, wrist, arm, and shoulder.

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month – #Take6forPD

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, every six minutes someone is diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in the United States.

April is Parkinson’s Disease (PD) Awareness Month and along with the PD Community, we are encouraging everyone to take six minutes in an effort to raise awareness, advance the research, and become knowledgeable of the available treatments for this disease. With someone being diagnosed every six minutes, that totals 90,00 people per year in the United States alone.  Let’s be advocates.

Beyond awareness comes treatment. At Tx:Team, we have Physical, Occupational, and Speech Therapists who are trained and certified in treating patients with PD. One treatment program which has been proven beneficial is the LSVT BIG® and LOUD® Program.

How do the LSVT programs benefit Parkinson’s patients?

Parkinson’s can impact function in everything a person does at home, at work, and in their community recreational pursuits. The LSVT programs help patients to maintain movement and voice for normal function in everyday life beyond medication and repetitive, non-direct task training exercises utilizing principles of neuroplasticity backed by years of research. It takes all 16 visits (four times per week for four weeks) to achieve carry over so that by the end of one month, patients know how to move BIGGER and be LOUDER all the time.   

A unique feature of LSVT BIG® and LOUD® is that it recognizes there is an internal cuing proprioceptive issue in individuals with Parkinson’s such as softer voice and smaller movements, in people that are unable to recognize their deficits the majority of the time.   

What is the focus of LSVT BIG®?

  • Faster speed  
  • Greater arm swing   
  • Longer steps  
  • Overcoming difficulty getting through the doorway  
  • Longer distance  
  • Faster clothing donning  
  • Grasping materials during meal preparation  
  • Legible handwriting  
  • Amplitude of movement when showering  

What is the focus of LSVT LOUD®?

  • Louder voice that is not hoarse  
  • Improved facial expression   
  • Reduction of monotone speech  
  • Improved emotion  
  • Using more words  

Who would benefit from BIG® and LOUD®?  

Patients who have a decline in the amplitude of their movement, voice, posture, and balance in addition to reduced speech intelligibility are motivated to participate in all required sessions.  

Why are these programs so important to this patient population?  

LSVT BIG® and LOUD® assists this patient population in maintaining, enhancing, and slowing progression of Parkinson’s Disease, which in return facilitates their ability to maintain a level of independence with the following skill sets essential for daily living:   

  • Changes in cognitive function. People with PD can still learn, but it might take longer and require more repetition of practice. As a patient progresses, the therapist will work on dual tasking so you can keep moving bigger and being louder while doing something else at the same time. For example, getting dressed and talking, walking while carrying something, or tapping your leg while reading.
  • Changes in movement amplitude. Commonly, people with PD have difficulty with activities they didn’t before. As a patient progresses, utilizing larger movements helps patients return to these activities without cues and assistance. 
  • Changes in communication. People who have PD have soft speech and feel that they are talking WNL while others “need a hearing aid.” However, people may begin to feel embarrassed with social isolation. As a patient progresses with continuous use of a loud voice, they are able to participate in conversations without feeling excluded while maintaining their dignity.
  • Changes in emotional regulation, pacing, attention, cardiovascular health, sleep, and confidence can also be seen!  

If you have any more questions about the LSVT program for BIG® or LOUD®, find a certified therapist in your area or visit this website.


Nidhi, Alita, and Johanna are all experienced therapists in the Outpatient Clinic setting in Frederick, MD.  They work collaboratively together to support and treat patients with a variety of neurological diagnoses. Nidhi, Alita, and Johanna enjoy the relationships they foster with their patients, and they love to help them achieve their functional goals.

Nidhi Talpade, PT, DPT, BIG® Certified
Alita Borkar, MA, OTRL, BIG® Certified
Johanna Ebbs, MS, CCC-SLP, LOUD® Certified.

“Home is Where the Heart Is” and the Place Where My Patients Heal

“The magic thing about home is that it feels good to leave, and it feels even better to come back.” – Unknown
“Home is a shelter from storms – all sorts of storms.”-William J. Bennett

For many of us, our home is the place we most want to be, especially while we are recovering from surgery, a hospitalization, or experiencing a decline in our ability to care for ourselves. In-home rehabilitation services have been offered through home health agencies for years. Patients are being discharged from hospitals sooner and sicker, and more patients are declining rehab placements after discharge from the hospital. The home health team becomes an important step in the care continuum. As an Occupational Therapist in home health, I am an important player on that team.

How Does Occupational Therapy Work

As an Occupational Therapist, I work on all those things that occupy your time, from getting dressing, getting up and down from the toilet, taking a shower, making a meal, doing the laundry, driving, working, and enjoying your hobbies or leisure activities. After I assess someone’s abilities, I determine the areas that need to be improved and design a program that addresses those areas. The program could involve interventions in many different areas such as, therapeutic exercise, self-correcting balance training strategies or cognition/thinking skills.

I address Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and mobility in the home, sometimes recommending adaptive devices to improve independence. Think of me as the “gadget girl.”  I especially enjoy seeing how the right piece of equipment can make all the difference with someone’s independence. Equipment recommendations include the trialing and training on the use of the equipment, which is an important part of the job in the home. No matter how good a simulation in a clinic is, it can never replicate their home. Trialing the equipment in the patient’s actual home ensures the appropriate piece of equipment is obtained.

The Role of Home Health Occupational Therapy

Home Health OT plays a huge role in the prevention of re-hospitalization. Home health clinicians wear many hats. I am an OT but at any given moment, I may have to function as a PT, Social Worker or RN. Some days it seems that I spend half of my time talking to physicians, other clinicians and family members trying to problem solve what will work best for my patient.

As with anything, there are aspects of my job that I love as well as the ongoing challenges that require creative resourcefulness to complete my job to the best of my abilities. I enjoy the intimacy that comes being in someone’s home, connections seem easier to establish. I enjoy seeing people’s family photographs, the things they collect, from stamps, vintage Pyrex, perfume bottles, or teapots. I enjoy being able to use things like pet or plant care in my treatment sessions. I am happy that my personal confidence with driving, navigation and parking has improved. The challenges of my days include scheduling, finding clean bathrooms, communication with coworkers who I rarely see, traffic woes, and caring for an increasingly sick population.

I feel that the rubber meets the road in home health. I see how people actually live, not just what they or their family report. When my primary care provider and I have talked shop during my visits, I have told her that if she could make home visits it would change the way she practices medicine. Seeing patients in their home, is that powerful, and for an OT, is completely natural and just makes sense.

“Home is where the heart is,” and it is where my patients heal.

Monica Laird is an Occupational Therapist in the Home Health setting in Frederick, MD.  In her 35 years as an OT, Monica has worked in a variety of settings including subacute rehab, outpatient rehabilitation, acute care, and now home health. She is married, has 2 adult sons, and a 14 year old carnival goldfish. When she isn’t on the road seeing her patients, she enjoys crafting, traveling, and going out to dinner with friends. She does not enjoy gardening or yard work and avoids those activities as much as possible.

O Comes Before P But Not Always in Therapy

Typically, most places will list departments in alphabetical order; however, not in the therapy world.

Though “O” alphabetically comes before “P,” you will rarely see Occupational Therapy before Physical Therapy. I believe this is because the majority of the public is more aware of what PT actually is. I have jokingly referred to OT as being the “other” therapy. I get so excited when I meet someone who actually understands what OT is and what I do.

I’m a bit jealous that my fellow PTs don’t have to constantly explain what they do or feel the need to justify the benefits of their services. The name itself, occupational therapy, really doesn’t give the average person a good idea of what OT encompasses. I have worked in the geriatric setting for over 25 years and have heard it all. “Oh, honey, I’m retired. I don’t need you.” Well, actually you do, and let me tell you why!

What is Occupational Therapy?

OT focuses on the whole person with the ultimate goal of maximizing a person’s independence. Trying to get someone to view their occupation of living, what does that entail? What physical aspects (mobility, vision, limited ROM, or neurological movements) are preventing someone from being more independent?  What cognitive aspects (STM deficits, dementia, perceptual deficits) are holding them back? Are there any environmental factors, such as a cluttered area, poor spacing, fall hazards, or ergonomics? There are so many things that we do on a daily basis that we automatically perform. However, when someone is sick or injured, that is when these “occupations” get challenged.

How Can Occupational Therapists Help?

As occupational therapists, it is our job to help identify the factors that limit our patients to perform their daily routines. Whether that includes simple ADLs, figuring out ways for the patient to continue employment, or problem solving ways to continue to pursue activities of interest. To be a part of someone’s success in improving their independence and quality of life is one of the reasons that I love being an OT.

Sometimes all it takes are adaptations to make life easier. Use of adapted equipment, modifying the environment, and compensatory strategies are all techniques specific to OTs. Having been in the assisted living/independent living setting for almost four years now, I have been able to grow relationships with my clients and have enjoyed watching them in their daily occupations. Even after discharge from OT, it is great to be able to engage with them and make sure they are succeeding. However, it is also great to be able to observe any regressions and to help them identify when therapy may be warranted again.

I love it when I receive referrals from my former clients regarding other residents. Not only did I help one person improve, that person is now more aware of what OT is and looks out for others. I feel like I am doing my best to let others know what OT is and how it can potentially improve someone’s independence and quality of life. Now, if only I can get the “O” to come before the “P.” Okay, okay….now that’s just crazy talk!

Kate Beaty, OTR, is an Occupational Therapist in the Senior Living setting for Tx:Team.  She has spent the majority of her career in the geriatric setting, whether in nursing homes, assisted livings or sub-acute rehabilitation.  She really enjoys the relationships that she fosters with her clients and loves to help them achieve their functional goals.

Low Vision: Helping You See a Brighter Day

Low vision can cause difficulty in seeing detailed letters and numbers when reading, recognizing the slope of a curb, steps, or facial features, and distinguishing between similar colors, such as black and blue. Adults who have one of these problems may have trouble maintaining their independence and completing typical day-to-day activities.

Occupational Therapists can help people with low vision to continue living in their own homes and complete daily tasks, such as showering, dressing, cooking, grocery shopping, managing finances, and getting around in the community.

How can an Occupational Therapist help?

OTs will evaluate a person’s environment at work and at home to determine how it can be altered to make the most out of a person’s remaining vision.

  • Optimize lighting on areas and objects that present risks for falls.
  • Reduce clutter in rooms to increase safety while moving around.
  • Educate on how to use other senses to compensate for vision loss.
  • Recommend assistive devices that aid in completing daily tasks.

What can friends and family or a person with low vision do?

  • Support them by adapting their home to keep it safe and functional.
  • Help them access community resources, including talking books, audio reader services, and centers for the blind.
  • Keep up to date about the person’s vision ability.


April is Occupational Therapy Month

Written by Carroll Nelligan, Tx:Team President and Chief Operating Officer

“You know that occupational therapy is more than a profession—it’s a passion, and it’s about people.”  AOTA

It’s April, an entire month dedicated to promote and create more awareness around the great field of Occupational Therapy. I encourage all of our Occupational Therapists to carve out some time to reflect on the great work you do and recharge yourselves with empowerment and inspiration. Here’s what inspires me about our profession:

OT is Creative. I had the pleasure of attending the Quarterly OT meeting with OTRs and COTAs from our Bridge region and our Indiana hospitals. We opened with a sharing activity, “What is a favorite Therapeutic Activity that you use in your practice?”  The inventive and resourceful list included making overnight oatmeal, packing a suitcase, selecting and wrapping a gift and many others. OTs have the training and expertise to select an activity and break it down into all of the required motor, cognitive, visual, and perceptual components to help our patients achieve meaningful occupation based goals. As we were sharing, my first supervisor at Good Samaritan Hospital Georgina Miller’s words echoed in my brain. “If you are doing straight exercise with a patient, you are NOT an occupational therapist.” OTs are creative experts in therapeutic activity!

OT is Evidence Based. Occupational therapy is a science-driven, evidence-based profession that enables people of all ages to participate in daily living or live better with injury, illness, or disability. This is accomplished through designing strategies for everyday living and customizing environments to develop and maximize potential. An independent study published in Medical Care Research found that “occupational therapy is the only spending category that has significantly lowered hospital readmission rates.”  What were the OT interventions that drove this?  Recommendations and training for caregivers, assistive devices, home safety assessments, assessing cognition around medication management, and functional mobility. Tx:Team Occupational Therapists and Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants in the hospital environment are impacting readmission rates each and every day!

OT is Holistic. We do with people not to people. We are about helping people live life to the fullest, regardless of what their life is like or who they are. By taking the full picture into account—a person’s psychological, physical, emotional, and social make-up—occupational therapy assists people in:

  • Achieving their goals
  • Functioning at the highest possible level
  • Concentrating on what matters most to them
  • Maintaining or rebuilding their independence
  • Participating in the everyday activities that they need to do or that simply make life worth living

We are experts in helping people perform the occupations they need and want to do every day.

Forever an OT.  Every weekend I visit my Mom at her senior living campus to spend time with her and help her with household tasks. On my most recent trip, I arrived at her apartment only to I realize I had left an item on my kitchen counter that was meant for her. Honestly, I was a bit frustrated, and I hurriedly exited the building to return (for yet another trip) to CVS.  It was then I saw a car door open in the parking lot and a resident was on the pavement. Her rolling walker (tennis balls in the air!) was turned over and she was struggling to get up. God works in small mysterious ways by sending a frustrated OT out to the parking lot at just at the right time. Occupational therapists (no matter what we are doing) are OTs at heart and are indispensable healthcare professionals within our communities.

Thank you to all of our talented, creative, smart, and dedicated Occupational Therapists and Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants. Take the time this month to celebrate and recognize our fabulous OTRs and COTAs for the passionate professionals that they are.

Occupational Therapy Awareness Amid Stay at Home Guidelines

During Occupational Therapy Awareness Month, therapists are asking “what does Occupational Therapy look like amid coronavirus and stay at home guidelines?”

“The philosophy of Occupational Therapy focuses on improving performance in all areas of occupation to facilitate health and promote growth through change &/or adaptation.  The ultimate goal is the achievement of health, well-being and participation in life through engagement in occupation.”  (AOTA 2014).

“Occupational Therapy has a fundamental belief that a healthy lifestyle reflects the balance between work, play/leisure, self-care and rest activities.”  (Journal of OT in Mental Health, Crist et al, Sept. 25, 2008).

A return to a balance in daily occupations can be achieved with Occupational Therapy through therapeutic exercise, therapeutic activities, activity modification and adaptation,  when one is affected by undue stress, illness or injury, and by applying a similar philosophy in one’s own self care practices.

During this pandemic, how are we occupying our time?  Everyone is currently affected by a significant amount of change, which requires the ability to adapt in a positive manner to maintain our own optimal health.  This is a good time to take stock of our physical, mental, spiritual, as well as financial health.  We have had to adapt the way that we are performing our daily routines.  And by taking good care of ourselves, we are then able to engage with compassion toward others who need it…if you have 20 rolls of toilet paper and your neighbor only has 2 rolls left…kindly share!

April is Occupational Therapy Awareness Month.  Occupational Therapy problem solves to help people adapt to change.  Currently, everyone’s lives are disrupted in one way or another and all are forced to adapt to the changes.  By now, most of us have found ways to adapt and fill the increased hours spent at home, or you may be running out of ideas.  There are many resources available online to combat the anxiety, depression, boredom, and the “couch potato” syndrome that is being experienced related to the Stay at Home guidelines.

The following are some resources and strategies to help adapt and remain positively engaged while staying at home:

  • The W.H.O is having a Health at Home Challenge on Twitter, go to Twitter.com/WHO/Status#HealthyatHome.
  • Tao-Well.com – Tai chi & Qigong fit videos, focus on mindfulness, reducing stress, while promoting strength, flexibility and balance.
  • Down Dog Yoga App – health care providers can get free access to their apps through July 1st.
  • Woebot – free app to promote positive mental health.
  • NHS.uk – sofa workout, as well as many other types of exercise videos.
  • Spotify” app – has a variety of uplifting song playlists as well as podcasts.
  • ”themodernproper” on Instagram – therapeutic and creative cooking ideas. A new recipe is shared daily on Instagram

Rather than binging on TV shows, we find ourselves coming up with other activities to occupy our time.  Utilizing social media and video games, assembling puzzles, playing games, yard work, walking, biking, running, cooking, baking, arts & crafts, board games and cards have become increasingly popular, and quality time with family has become more important. Trying to maintain a sense of humor at this time, will also help to combat anxiety and depression.  YouTube videos are a great source of humor.  Even though at times it may seem like too much togetherness at home, we should cherish every minute that we have with our loved ones.

Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.

Contributed by Erin Winters, OTR/L, PTA

Erin Winters, OTR/L, PTA

Erin is an Occupational Therapist with Tx:Team at Putnam County Hospital.  She is a graduate of the Indiana University Occupational Therapy Program.  Erin has extensive experience in the treatment of adults with a variety of diagnoses from neurological, orthopedics of the upper extremity and hand, as well as chronic or acute conditions.

The Lymphedema Superheroes among us

Today, Tx:Team celebrates Lymphedema Day and the work of therapists to serve those living with Lymphedema. Physical Therapists and Occupational Therapists perform really incredible work so that their patients regain the strength and confidence to live a life they thought was out of reach. One of our own therapists, Amy Rutherford, pursued a specialty in Lymphedema therapy early in her career, and today, we highlight the care and compassion that she provides to the residents of Frankfort, Indiana.

Amy works at IU Health Frankfort Hospital, located about an hour northwest of the state’s capitol, Indianapolis, in its more rural Clinton County. In her area, she mostly sees Lymphedema patients coming in with swelling of the lower extremities from COPD and diabetes. For Amy, she appreciates how simple lifestyle changes can greatly affect her patients and reduce the burden of Lymphedema on their lives.

What’s Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a diagnosis of body swelling that is caused from damage to the lymphatic system. Whereas healthy bodies can manage their fluids and dispose of waste properly, bodies with damaged lymph nodes can build up the fluid that would normally be filtered out. On the outside, we see that buildup of fluid looking like an arm or leg that’s been blown up like a balloon.

In early stages, Lymphedema is easily treatable and reversible. However, the signs of this stage are so subtle that they can be very difficult to detect. A patient might feel tight in clothing or they’ll need to loosen the notch of their wristwatch. By the time the body is noticeably swelling, Lymphedema has typically progressed into a lifelong chronic condition that can significantly interfere with someone’s quality of life.

How does Lymphedema affect a person’s life?

A swollen arm or leg can make it difficult for a person to get dressed in the morning because their body is heavier, and they might not fit in the clothes they usually wear. It can be more difficult to do some of life’s basic routines, like bathing, for example. Little things that we don’t think about in our everyday lives- like washing our feet- can suddenly become near impossible because it’s too straining to reach passed the swelling to the feet.

It’s not just a physical condition. You can imagine that not being able to fit in your normal clothes and going out in public with a large swollen arm could affect your self-confidence. And if you can no longer wash your feet, you probably feel less clean than you’d like to be. For these reasons, Lymphedema can take a toll on a person’s mental health. Feelings of embarrassment and depression can creep in and linger throughout the day.

Just about all superheroes don’t wear capes.

Day in and day out, Amy is committed to making her patients feel healthy and great about themselves. She provides not only her expertise, but also compassion for her patients’ lives. When a patient arrived unable to properly clean himself, she knelt down to wash his feet. Really wash his feet of likely weeks of grime. “Cleaning a patient,” she says, “is work that really creates a bond. It’s work that reminds you of the biblical act of washing feet to show your care for another.” Encouraging patients to use proper soap and lotions, like Dove and Eucerin, and getting them to be a little more active in their day has undoubtedly improved the lives of many. We remember how simple, yet genuine care can impactfully change lives.

So today, we thank Amy Rutherford for almost twenty years of work in her field. Lymphedema is a debilitating and frustrating condition that can bring a lot of pain into patients’ lives. Therapists like Amy, who have committed themselves to treating Lymphedema, offer support that restores independence and dignity to those they serve.

Amy is just one of our Certified Lymphedema Therapists. We are thankful for all our CLTs and the work they do.