Occupational Therapy's Role with Early-Stage Alzheimer's

A study in the Journal of Gerontology recognized occupational therapy (OT) as being an effective force in helping a person with Alzheimer's disease to manage their occupational performance. Occupational performance is described as a person's ability to carry out their everyday tasks, and roles in their life.1,2

Early-stage Alzheimer's symptoms

An individual in this stage often begins to show signs in a variety of areas including cognition, behavior, and daily function.

Problems with cognition

Some symptoms can include increased forgetfulness, getting lost in familiar places, mild issues with the ability to find the right words when speaking (word-finding). Additional symptoms can also include misplacing items, judgment becoming impaired, forgetting about scheduled appointments, and attention span can appear to be lessening.2


Individuals can appear depressed and may show increased feelings of seeming to not care about what is going on in their life. Additionally, a person may also show decreased motivation or desire to do things they normally did in their lives.2

Problems with daily living skills

Individuals may show signs of having difficulty managing their finances and medications. Individuals also start to have a hard time starting, planning and carrying out their ability to care for themselves.2

Occupational therapy in early-stage Alzheimer's

OTs will evaluate an individual's ability to perform their everyday task and how they manage themselves in their work, home, and leisure environments.

OT takes account of the person's interests, physical abilities, and cognitive level in early-stage Alzheimer's and narrows in on the following:2,3

OT for patient and caregiver

  • Assisting the person and their caregiver on the creation of a structured schedule including self-care tasks, work, volunteer, leisure activities, rest periods, and sleep.
  • Education of patients and their caregivers on Alzheimer's disease and provide community resources as needed.
  • Help to educate patients and caregivers in the development of and using simple written directions for the use of common appliances and everyday household items.
  • Instruct patient and caregivers in a home OT program with verbal and written instructions. This home program can include different exercises to keep the persons strength, endurance, range of motion, and cognitive stimulation at a healthy level.

Improving structure and independence

  • Education and training on the use of compensation techniques for organization and memory, like assisting patients and families on the development of a memory notebook.
  • Provide, educate, and increase the use of visual cues. Educate and assist in the use of labels on closets and doors.
  • Enhance a person's independence and increase their level of safety by simplifying an activity, structuring their environment, and providing adaptive equipment recommendations and training.

Formal assessments

  • Provide a comprehensive home evaluation. This type of performance-based home evaluation focuses on the individual performing their daily tasks in their home environment.
  • Address ability to safely drive. Provide recommendations to an occupational therapist who specializes in driving rehabilitation. Help explore alternative transportation options.
  • Assessment of individual's fall risk and provide strategies to help prevent falls.

OT referral for early-stage Alzheimer's

If you feel you or your loved one could benefit from OT services. Talk to your physician about a potential referral. OT services are obtained through a physician script. Most insurances will cover OT. All insurance plan's coverage options vary. So checking with the health insurance company about your plan or your loved one's plan coverage is important.

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