Empowering occupational therapy practitioners with a playbook of functional tasks to use with their geriatric clients

Top 20 Functional Activities to Do in Isolation Rooms

Top 20 Functional Activities to Do in Isolation Rooms

Let’s talk about functional activities to do in isolation rooms with minimal equipment or supplies.

I work in a skilled nursing facility and the pandemic has created many challenges for my practice of occupational therapy. For starters, performing a physically demanding job in full isolation gear is no joke! Helping a client shower while wearing a reusable gown and N95 mask is SO exhausting! Also, I worry a lot of about the effects that isolation is having on my clients. (If you’re worried about yours too, make sure you check out my new course).

While those things are hard, the biggest challenge I’m facing is consistently delivering functional interventions in isolation rooms. I’m committed to using functional interventions but I’m limited to either what’s already in the room or things that I can effectively clean as I leave the room.

My go to plan is working on ADLs. I can work on eating, grooming, dressing, and toileting easily in isolation. But what about when my client is higher level and needs to work on IADL tasks? Or what if they need more specific practice to develop their cognitive skills? To address these questions, I’ve come up with a top 20 list of functional occupational therapy interventions that can be done in isolation rooms.

If you give any of these a try, or if you have any others to add to the list, let us know in the comments below!

The Top 20 List of Functional Activities to Do in Isolation Rooms

  1. Practice washing hands. You can also cover things like: When should you do it? How should you do it? How long should you do it?
  2. Washing windows. There are probably paper towels in the room so all you would need is glass cleaner. You can easily bring in a bottle of glass cleaner and bleach it down when you exit the room.
  3. Cleaning a mirror. Just like washing windows, you probably have paper towel already so you’d just need class cleaner which could be bleached easily as you leave.
  4. Making a bed. You can bring in clean linens and take the dirty linens with you as you leave. (The CNAs love it when I do this one!)
  5. Folding laundry. You can use linens already in the room or extra that you bring in to make the bed. You can also practice with the residents’ clothes. (Just keep in mind that your laundry teams are probably working hard to keep up with the extra demands, so try not to create extra work for them!)
  6. Hanging up clothes or organizing the closet. In my facility, our laundry team usually distributes clothing. Doing this as part of OT is a good standing dynamic balance activity and helps us practice cognitive skills like organization but also helps minimize the need for additional staff in resident rooms.
  7. Carrying objects while walking with a FWW or using a WC. This is easy because you can use whatever assistive device and objects you have around. For example, this week I had a resident carry blankets and other linens across the room to make his bed while using his walker.
  8. Write out a recipe for the resident’s favorite meal. All you need is paper and a pen or pencil. You could incorporate looking up a recipe online using the resident’s phone or tablet or even calling a family member. If the recipe is for a favorite comfort food, you could also send the recipe to the kitchen to see if they could make it sometime (although if you do this, check with the kitchen about the best way to get the recipe to them while following their infection control procedures first!)
  9. Making a grocery list for when the resident goes home. All you need is paper and a pen or pencil.
  10. Organizing drawers or toiletry item, throwing away things that aren’t needed. (Have you ever noticed how much stuff accumulates? Going through things can be a great cognitive exercise.)
  11. Pack the resident’s belongings to go home. I did this for the first time this week for an unexpected discharge. It was a fantastic activity addressing both cognition and balance. I don’t always see people on the day the go home but if you do, I can’t recommend this enough. (As a bonus, the CNAs were VERY appreciative and it minimized the number of people who had to come in the room).
  12. Reading and discussing the newspaper. All you need is a newspaper!
  13. Doing the puzzles in the newspaper (sudoku, crossword, etc.). Something else you can do with just a newspaper and a pen or pencil.
  14. Writing a card or letter. This could be a thank you note to someone on the healthcare team or a chance to connect with family or friends. You could start with a card or bring in paper, scissors or (simple and easily cleaned) supplies for making a card. Don’t forget to bring a pen, pencil, or marker.
  15. Executive Function Performance Test, Bill Pay task. This is a functional assessment I love and it could be fairly easily adapted to do in a room. You can print out the needed supplies and bring the to the room with a pen. The only thing that might be hard is having the other mail the resident sorts through to find the bills.
  16. Executive Function Performance Test, Phone Call task. If your resident has a smart phone, they can use it to look up a local grocery store and place the call.
  17. Learning how to use a cell phone or other device to communicate with family.
  18. Online grocery shopping. If your client has a computer or smart phone, they can practice placing an online order. You can also teach them some options for ordering groceries online and how to use the websites. This is especially nice if you client is returning to the community but is concerned about social distancing and wants to minimize interactions in the community.
  19. Learning a new coping skill. I think one of the reasons that the isolation is so hard on residents is they can’t engage in their usual coping strategies. One that I’ve started to incorporate in treatments is meditation, because it really doesn’t require any set up or supplies. You can learn a few really basic ones (like a body scan) and teach them to your residents. Or, if they have a smart phone or tablet, you can access apps or youtube videos to practice.
  20. Decorating the window. You can do this with white board makers which could be left in the room or cleaned easily as you leave. You could also bring in colored paper, scissors, and markers because the scissors and markers can be cleaned as you leave. This could be used to improve the client’s mood or as a way for the client to communicate with loved ones who could drive or walk by and see the decorations or message.

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