Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy: How They Compare and Differ in Senior Care

Occupational Therapy

Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy: How They Compare and Differ in Senior Care

Understanding the differences and how they help in elder care needs


You’ve heard of both physical therapy and occupational therapy. You might know that they both offer hands-on help with gaining certain functions or capacities, but you might not know how they vary. What is the difference between physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT)?

In a nutshell, physical therapy focuses on helping a patient with body movements. Occupational therapy emphasizes assisting a patient with activities of daily living such as bathing, eating, and dressing.

The medical fields of occupational therapy and physical therapy do overlap some. However, they also have some distinctions in their approach. Basically, PT treats people for injuries, illnesses, and physical limitations. On the flipside, OT facilitates the improvement of daily activities and routines of those who are recovering from illness, injury, or limitations in physical function.

How does Physical Therapy help?

A physical therapist is a licensed health professional. They treat a person’s actual impairment by improving circulation, bone alignment, increasing mobility, and adding muscle strength. PT also reduces pain, inflammation, and muscle spasms to help with overall body mechanics.

PT sessions can include a combination of ultrasound, ice, electrical muscle stimulation, heat, massage, laser, weight training, and other reconditioning exercises. The physical therapy field assists a variety of medical specialties. These include geriatrics, orthopedics, pain management, and cardiopulmonary fields.

How does Occupational Therapy help?

An occupational therapist is also a licensed health professional. An OT helps patients develop, maintain, or recover the ability to carry out activities of daily living and work skills. OT integrates rehabilitative work done hands-on to engage individuals more completely in their daily life.

OT additionally involves making adaptations to a person’s environment. Examples include incorporating a shower bench, adjusting walker height, or reconfiguring a computer workstation. A holistic OT approach will also consider any cognitive challenges, behaviors, and emotions that prevent patients from participating in their usual activities. Occupational therapists will generally evaluate a client’s home, school, or workspace to determine any necessary training, life skills, or other adaptive equipment that can improve daily functioning.

What they have in common

While PT and OT serve different roles, they both assist patients in the healing process and educate them on how to avoid and prevent injury and setbacks. 

While the fields of physical therapy and occupational therapy serve different roles in health care, there is much crossover between them.

  • Both provide education on preventing and avoiding injuries.
  • Both educate about the body’s healing process.
  • Both provide assistance in improving a patient’s ability to perform daily activities through education and training.
  • Both play extremely important roles and specialize in their respective areas of expertise.

The role of caregivers and loved ones

Both PT and OT create personalized care plans for patients. If a loved one is providing care to their senior or disabled loved one, they can work with the OT or PT. By understanding the care plan, they will have a better understanding and be more mindful of their loved ones capabilities and progress in achieving them. 

For those that have paid caregivers like with Chosen Family Home Care, these caregivers can help monitor these in the home or inside of a care facility. They also integrate programs like fall prevention and other inventive ways to support senior care. They can report back on progress to not only families but also to stakeholders in care like the OT and PT. 

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