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“It’s satisfying helping to improve a person’s quality of life by bringing joy and comfort”

4 November 2019

For Occupational Therapy Week, we caught up with Amy, a Senior Palliative Care Occupational Therapist at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice. In her role, Amy supports patients to remain independent for as long as possible, so that they can keep on doing the things that matter most to them. Here, she explains how…   

As an Occupational Therapist, I look at how someone’s illness affects their everyday activities. This could include how you get around your house, how you clean yourself and get dressed, how you cook a meal or how you look after your pets. It could also include the things you enjoy doing, such as going to the shops, watching your favourite football team play or seeing your mates down the pub. I know that people want to keep doing as much as they can for as long as they can – and so that’s what I support them with.

I also help individuals to manage any difficult symptoms they may be experiencing, such as breathlessness, anxiety and mobility issues. I will share techniques and advise on equipment they can use, to try and minimise the impact these symptoms might have on their quality of life.

If I’m working with a patient who is living at home, I will assess their property and look at ways that we can adapt it. This could involve installing handrails to make it easier to get around the home, aids to help a person go to the toilet independently and ramps so that they can get in-and-out of the house safely. I will also talk to them to see if there are any activities they are struggling with. If a person gets out of breath very easily for example, we will work together to prioritise activities and look at how they could pace them throughout the day.

I also support patients who are staying at our Inpatient Unit at the Hospice. With these patients, I will often work with them to see what support they will need when they go back home. Again, this could be seeing if you need any aids in the home, such as wheelchairs or a bath seat, or sharing techniques you might find useful, such as practising how to get in-and-out of bed more easily. Ultimately, I want to make sure that when that person does go home, they are armed with the confidence and techniques to remain there – especially as for so many people, home is where they want to be.

Another part of my role is delivering educational programmes to people who visit our Day Hospice. We deliver a number of programmes, including how to manage and plan functional activities, such as cooking meals. One of my favourite programmes though, is looking at social and leisure activities. For so many people, having a life-limiting illness can be quite isolating and can make their world smaller. With this programme, we look at how individuals can still take part in social activities. I want to keep a person’s world open, enabling them to live well for as long as possible.

What I enjoy most about my role is how goal-focussed it is. Our team will sit down with patients to find out what really matters to you and what goals they you would like to achieve. Recently, I supported a woman at home whose biggest wish was to get into her garden. She took great pride in her garden and had spent many days sitting in it. Unfortunately, her illness meant she could no longer walk the distance to her garden, which caused her a lot of emotional distress. So I worked alongside her to see what we could do to change this, and ended up providing her with a wheelchair and installing ramps. Knowing that she was able to spend her final weeks in the place she loved was hugely rewarding – it’s satisfying to know that you’re helping to improve a person’s quality of life by bringing joy and comfort.

For many of us throughout our lives, we often take the little things for granted – like being able to make a cup of tea or going for a walk to the shops. When diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, we realise that it’s often those little things that make a big difference. Supporting people to be able to do those things is so important – it helps maintain a sense of identity, improves wellbeing and can make someone feel more in control of their illness.

Thank you Amy for sharing your story with us. If you would like to find out about the different services we provide at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, please take a read here.