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Health Care Providers Are Likely Gatekeepers to Occupational Therapy

Awareness of the Role of Occupational Therapy in Healthcare Among Adults Age 50-Plus

Nearly three-quarters of adults said they would be extremely or very likely to engage in occupational therapy if their doctor prescribed it, suggesting that healthcare providers provide a pivotal role in access to this therapy. Occupational therapy involves helping individuals regain function when an illness, disease, condition, or accident interrupts their ability to engage in their daily activities. Occupational therapists may also help individuals adapt to their new normal if their abilities cannot be fully restored.

spinner image Occupational Therapy

Key Findings

Seven in 10 adults said they are at least somewhat familiar with the role of occupational therapy in health care but about one-fifth said they do not know what it entails. Most are aware that occupational therapists can recommend adaptive devices and how to use them (55%), many are aware that occupational therapy involves fall prevention (49%), recommendations for home modification (47%), and adaptation to vision loss (43%). Somewhat fewer are aware that occupational therapy involves assisting people with life transitions (36%), dementia (34%), memory rehabilitation (34%), and caregiving (33%).

The location of occupational therapy makes a difference to some 50-plus adults. More than six in 10 (64%) said they would be more likely to seek occupational therapy if it was done in their home, and about one-third said the location would not affect their decision to engage in this type of therapy. The location mattered more to women, with seven in 10 saying they would be more likely to seek occupational therapy if it was in their home compared to 57% of men who said the same thing.

While many are familiar with the role of occupational therapy in health care, nearly three in 10 (29%) 50-plus adults are not. This information gap represents an opportunity to ensure that adults know all their available options should they experience an event that impacts their ability to engage in daily activities.

Methodology

The research is based on a survey conducted by phone and online April 21–24, 2023, of a nationally representative sample of 1,012 people aged 50-plus.  Respondents were asked to answer questions about their awareness of how occupational therapy fits into health care and their likelihood to use it. 

For more information, please contact Laura Mehegan at lmehegan@aarp.org. For media inquiries, contact External Relations at media@aarp.org.