Check out these tips from other OTs that work with the older adult population. Find this tip "Help prevent caregiver burnout." and MORE at | #OT #geriatricOT

OTs Reveal Their 35 Top Tips When Working in Geriatrics

I got in touch with occupational therapists from all over social media who work with older adults and asked each one -

What is your top tip for working with geriatric patients?

I am excited to report that this list has a lot of gems in it - from professional tips, treatment ideas and even self care. Dive in, learn and enjoy!

Professional Tips for Geriatric OTs

1. Listen to their concerns and find out what is important to them. - Andrew Donelson

2. Maximize and implement meaningful leisure and social engagement. - Alexis @8alexisjoelle of

3. Respect them, because it's hard not being able to do the things they once did so easily. I actually had a 94 yo female cry to me when I was recommending safety techniques. It made me realize how difficult the aging process can be. At that moment, I stepped back, empathized with her and re-evaluated how I approached the safety concerns. I was never disrespectful to her, but needed to realize how much has changed in her life. - Manda Tukerr 

4. Find out what is and has been most meaningful to them and use that in all intervention planning! - Tina Champagne @OTInnovations of 

Check out these tips from other OTs that work with the older adult population. Find this tip "Help prevent caregiver burnout." and MORE at | #OT #geriatricOT

5. In a skilled nursing facility, cultivate a deep awareness of your client's temporal and privacy sacrifices. Now leaven treatment goals with personal control. - C.Anomia @whiffoself

6. Active listening. - Juno Chio

7. Collaborating to set goals that are meaningful and providing education for rationale behind each intervention. - Laura Currie @ots_laurac 

8. Having all of the concerned parties on the same page is so important! If it is possible for everyone to sit down for a family meeting - do it! - Sarah Lyon @otpotential of

9. If they can't hear you face them, make eye contact and lower your voice. Don't get louder, get lower. - Julia Kosobucki 

10. Value the contributions they have made and can continue to make to individuals and communities. - Claire Cooper @ClaireEaston1

11. I do home health and most of my home health clients are geriatrics. Many do not have the finances to pay for medical equipment or adaptive equipment. I try to be as cost effective in modifying their home environment and need for adaptive equipment, while maximizing their functional potential. I often rely on non-profit organizations for gently used equipment, which is sometimes free or a small fee. - Amy Archer Thompson

12. Help prevent caregiver burnout. - Emmy Vadnais @HolisticOT of

13. Be creative and enjoy life to the fullest! - Hiral Munjal

14. Shake hands and introduce yourself to all caregivers and patients in home health. - Jacqueline Hamilton Walker 

15. Ask for help when you need it - Marilyn Keeler 

16. Patience and a set of good listening ears! - Jennifer Anderson @JenGAnderson

17. Be personable. Be kind. Be honest. Listen. - @goodsam of Good Samaritan Society

18. Honor them and see past their age, disability or illness. Learn from them! - Krista Covell Pier OTR @KristatheOT, Owner of Covell Care & Rehabilitation

19. I like to ask what they did for a living before they retired. Tells me a lot about how to approach their therapy in a personalized way. This also stimulates memory. Women who never worked but raised children, I like to tell them that's the hardest unpaid job. Smile. I like to include and support the caregiver in all treatments and help them see what they can do to continue after OT has discharged them. - Jamie Ha

20. Be patient and don't take what they do to you, behavior wise, personally. - Bill Wong @BillWongOT

21. Be respectful of finances and the patient/family/caregivers sense of priorities -- as a clinician, we often bring a more objective sense of home safety/modifications /recommendations that the patient or those closest to them may not, or choose not, to see, either for personal, financial or simply more preferred sense of priorities and/or need. It can be a balancing act of education and suggestions on our parts as therapy providers but, ultimately, it is their home and we can only do so much. - Melia Newton 

22. Listen. When you really hear the person, you can collaborate with them to find the right plan. - Kellly S @KellyOT

23. Be patient with yourselves and the patient! There is no perfect situation; what might be an easy situation to resolve may not be to the patient...sometimes lack of resources drive them to do some seemingly awkward stuff! - India Leah Davis

24. Use simple words and do not confuse them. Show them you are concerned about them; genuine. - Vicneas Veloo

Treatment Tips for Geriatric OT

25. For home health patients, buy 4 gallon trash bags to line the bucket in a bedside commode. Easy cleanup. You have to look for 4 gallon trash bags - usually on the top shelves. Can also double line the bucket for increased safety. My patients love this. - Valerie Kramer 
HUGE list of 35 top tips from OTs working with the geriatric population. Great things to keep in mind! | #OT #geriatricOT26. And to piggy back that, Karmen Wilson states, I also have them put a scoop of kitty litter into the bag after soiling them to capture the smell.

27. Wear supportive/well-fitting/non-slip footwear at all times (even indoors). - Angela Juba Martell

28. Don't underestimate the power of pain or touch. Pain can impair flexibility, safety, mood, sleep, blood pressure and more. Sometimes a 10 minute neck and shoulder rub can completely change the person's experience. - Julia Kosobucki 

29. Wireless doorbell systems sold at home improvement stores and/or baby monitors as a "call light" if in a two story home. - Melia Newton 

30. Found that puppy pee pads were more sturdy than human-type pads for beds. Cheaper too. The ones from Pet Smart were sturdier, didn't tear as easy but the ones from Pet Valu are softer. - Marilyn Keeler

31. I've spray painted urinal bottles dark gold to hide when full or used as many of my patients are embarrassed guests will see the urine in the clear bottle. You can see it has liquid but more discreet. - Jeannie Edwards McBride 

32. Review all patient medication bottles. What they take affects function. - Sally @SallyCares of

33. Remove all throw rugs from the patient's home as they increase risk of falling. - Manny Marrero

34. Foster independence by making their environment accessible. - Rusk Rehab Podcast @RuskInsights

35. Use contrast colored tape on steps and thresholds. Motion sensored night lights are nifty. - Richard Steenson

ok - 1 extra for good luck... 36. Always (have patients) dry off completely before exiting the tub or shower. - Justin Oakley, Owner of Oakley Home Services

 What tips would you add to this list?



Looking for more OT treatment ideas, education videos, clinical resources, patient handouts, assessments and support? Check out the Learning Lab membership and join today!

Comments 34

  1. Thanks for sharing the top tips for working with the elderly. Demonstrating patience and great listening is key to gaining not only trust but friendship.

  2. As a home health therapist for several years, I like to find a connection with my client or notice a passion they might have and explore that. Such as favorite authors, tv shows and or hobbies. I also like to see in their refrigerator. Sometimes exploring many expired containers or mold on foods. Its easy to have them practice opening, bending, retrieving and replacing food items in their refrigerator. Knowing what they are eating. I often ask them about what they had for breakfast or plans for lunch. This tells me a lot. Their concept of a nutritious meal, their planning skills, will they need assistance possible idea for today’s treatment session and memory. I also try to get core exercises into each session for improved strengthening and balance. I know money is sometimes tight and I have built relationships with the hospice nurses who will call me to pick up gently used items from their previous clients. I often put my phone number on equipment I have loaned, given or sold. It’s amazing what comes back to me, often the caregiver is happy to know someone else could make use of their passed loved ones items. Hope these ideas help.

  3. I am in the category of “getting older”, and I am wondering if there is any sure way to get ones bathmat to truly stick!? I am recovering from a broken leg, am pretty fluffy, and so far use a bath chair. I have also bought about four different bath mats that are supposed to stick, but none of them do!!! Help!!!

    1. Those can be really tricky – especially if you want to take it out of the tub each time you use it. I would recommend getting those non-skid safety tape that you put in the bottom of the tub. They stick and help with you not falling – like these:

  4. I agree, I’ve also heard a therapist say at’a boy!
    The therapist is a very nice man, and good at what he does, but hearing that made me cringe a bit…

  5. Actively listen and engage in conversation, even those with cognitive deficits. Sometimes my patients won’t start working with me because they’re having a bad day and they simply need to vent. Whether they’re upset with the staff or their family isn’t visiting them, it all returns to the MOHO. What is important to them and why. You got into healthcare to help and this is the basic principle. You treat the person as well as the condition. It’s amazing how many patients open up and the amazing things you learn from their long lives.

  6. Demonstrate patience, Listen sincerely, touch, hug and smile often, they can sense you truly care then and you will earn their trust and friendship.

    Mandy is it still possible to get a printed copy and of all the comments as well?

  7. Great idea. In fact handouts for everything! Exercises, walker safety tips, energy conservation. Then they don’t have to worry about forgetting it and can review it after you leave. Also caregivers know what your recommendations are when family member possibly can’t recall what you did while there or just doesn’t bother to pass it along. Plus some folks just learn better with pictures and written words.

  8. I see this is almost a year old post, but had to comment …. super helpful !! My dad who’s 83yo will be moving in with be after completing rehab.

  9. Mandy,
    Thank you for collecting these great ideas. I find placing a calendar in a patient’s room helps them get or stay somewhat oriented as well as offering them a small pad of paper on which to write when their therapy times are, when they receive their medication, so they feel like they have some control in a skilled nursing facility where most have come right from the hospital .

    Could you also please send me a printable copy of your tips? I’d appreciate it. Thank you for being an OT!

    1. Stop saying ‘Good job!’ It reminds me of what I said to my kids when they were little.
      They need encouragement but not condescension.

  10. I have been a geriatric OT for 35 years. I say to my staff and students the first visit when you are evaluating is the most important. Take time to sit and talk face to face. We typically do a little grooming, cutting nails and lotioning their hands while we talk about family, working, history, etc. Touching them while conversationally talking to them helps to develop a relationship and establish trust. The residents know we are there to take care of them and get them better!

    1. Post
  11. I am a new grad just beginning. I love everything about these pointers. It can be overwhelming at first but remembering the simple bed side manner is most important.

    1. Post

      I completely agree, Ansley 🙂 My all time favorite rule of thumb is “don’t listen to reply, listen to understand.” This can be applied to so many different scenarios with patients, co-workers, families. Building rapport and understanding the wants and needs of the patient is top priority! 🙂

  12. Mandy, when doing home care, if I recommended DME or other equipment for a patient not covered by insurance, I would also provide them with location/phone numbers of local Senior Centers. Quite often they have received DME as donations. They will lend them out for as long as needed and only ask that if still in good condition, be re-donated. Also, has the best prices around for DME and other medical items. Most are shipped directly to the patient’s home within 1-3 business days. It is the same brands and quality that they would order through catalogs or buy in medical supply stores. It can save them a lot of money, especially on very limited incomes. Sometimes, and I stress being very careful here, they may find almost new items at tag sales and at town recycle stations as people do not know what else to do with them. Hope this is helpful

    1. Post

      Thank you Debbie!! Great tips – I have a list with a ton of that information to make it easier. I am with you, I usually tell them to be careful about second hand, but definitely can find some good deals if it is in good condition. I appreciate the tip 🙂

  13. Mandy, could you help me? I want to print this up as a handout for student resource and possibly inservice. Do you have it in a format that I can print easily? Thanks!!

    1. Post
    1. Post
  14. Respect their privacy. If it is a married couple this also means to allow for conversation between them without any input from you.

    1. Post
  15. Tip: Put together and provide handouts (with images) on adaptive and durable medical equipment needed in the home with a list of inexpensive places to purchase the items.

    1. Post

      I found it very challenging when I started working in a new town, when trying to figure out all the resources for adaptive equipment, especially in home health. If it is hard for me, I can’t imagine how hard it is for our patients and their families. Handouts are definitely key!

    1. Post
  16. The things that are relevant to you– how you feel, your finances, family stuff, politics,love, sex– are just as important to someone older. We are not so different.

    1. Post

      Hi Robin –

      I couldn’t have said it better myself! We all have marked differences that shape us such as culture or socioeconomic status, but in the end, people are people. We all have the same fundamental desires, wants and needs. If we can tap into that, as practitioners, use our therapeutic use of self, show respect and have empathy, we can’t go wrong.

  17. Don’t be patronizing. We all do it without realizing. To test, imagine someone speaking to you the way you speak to your patients.

    1. Post

      That couldn’t be more true Nora! I think we sometimes get in a rush and don’t fully realize our tone or impact we have on our actions. Thanks for input! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *