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Ask the expert: Occupational Therapy

Do your hands feel clumsy or is it difficult to put on your shoes or your clothes? Does your thinking feel “foggy” or “hazy”? Or do you have questions about how to balance out your energy throughout the day so you feel rested to do the things you want to do? You would likely benefit from working with an occupational therapist.

person tying shoes on steps
How would you describe occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy helps people across their lifespan participate in the activities that they want and need to do in their daily lives. As occupational therapists we ask the question of “what is important to you? What do you want to do?”.

What signs might indicate that someone should work with an occupational therapist?
  • If you notice that you often walk into rooms and don’t know why you went in there.
  • If you have poor concentration or are getting distracted more than usual.
  • If you are avoiding activities like showering or doing laundry because they tire you out.
  • If you are feeling more fatigued and requiring more sleep. 
  • If you are isolating yourself from activities because they tire you out or are getting harder to do. 
Why should someone be motivated to work with occupational therapy?

We help people during all stages of disease, from diagnosis through treatment and into survivorship. We help prepare people mentally and physically for what they might experience and we help them maintain as much function as possible, especially during those times when people are at their worst and unable to get up and care for themselves. It’s incredible how quickly our muscles can atrophy when we aren’t moving and doing activities of daily living, like showering and household chores. 

Occupational therapy can also help combat cancer-related fatigue, which is different from general fatigue. Read below to learn more about cancer-related fatigue. 

As with many rehab therapies, working with an occupational therapist can also help with social isolation. Not only by interacting with the therapist, but also by helping people re-engage with activities like going out to the store or having a meal with friends or family. 

Cancer-Related Fatigue

Cancer-related fatigue, or cancer fatigue, is the most commonly experienced symptoms of cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation. It is different from general fatigue that is experienced by individuals who do not have cancer or another rare disease. Cancer fatigue is unrelenting and does not resolve with rest or a good nights sleep, and it can greatly impact someone's ability to function and their quality of life. 

Typically, cancer fatigue comes on suddenly but not as a result of activity or exertion. You can work with an occupational therapist to learn different practices and techniques to manage your energy so you can do the things most meaningful to you. 

What is the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy?

Occupational therapy focuses mostly on building up strength and endurance of the upper body while physical therapists work on building strength and endurance of the lower body. Occupational therapists also work on fine motor coordination, memory, concentration and fatigue management/energy conservation. Our profession helps to prioritize what is most important to the individual and blending that with what the individual needs to be able to do to care for themselves.

For example, if someone is really passionate about being able to cook their own meals and struggling with endurance and hand strength we would look for ways to increase endurance and modify approaches to chopping and stirring.

Additionally, we help people with the activities we all have to do to take care of ourselves. Examples of these activities could be toileting, bathing, dressing and eating. For these activities, it may include modifying the task, using adaptive equipment to be more independent or safe, building strength and increasing endurance.

What does a typical assessment include?

The assessment is very dependent on the developmental age of the person and what we would expect them to be able to do with their underlying condition. So our assessment for a six year old would look very different for a six year old, to a 35 year old, to a 95 year old. 

In general an assessment will look at the person’s ability to independently perform activities of their daily life. This could include:

  • Bathing/showering
  • Eating and drinking
  • Climbing stairs
  • Doing laundry
  • Running errands
  • Preparing meals
  • Taking care of children or other loved ones
  • Performing work responsibilities (physical and cognitive functions)

Additional Resources



  1. American Cancer Society:
  2. Livestrong:
Adaptive Equipment


  1. North Coast Medical
  2. AliMed
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