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Ally Armstrong, left, is a licensed Occupational Therapist with the nonprofit Gary & Mary West PACE in San Marcos. Courtesy photo
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Occupational therapist helps North County seniors live independently

Ally Armstrong was a 17-year-old soccer player with plans to study nursing when an accident left her paralyzed below the waist. After learning how to navigate life in a wheelchair, she decided she wanted to do the same for others. Now, Ally is a licensed Occupational Therapist with the nonprofit Gary & Mary West PACE in San Marcos, enabling vulnerable seniors with physical disabilities, traumatic brain injuries or other neurological conditions, to live full, independent lives in their own homes.

April is Occupational Therapy Month, and we’re recognizing the inspired work of professionals like Ally, who have navigated additional challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, to deliver exceptional care to our participants.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy enables people to live their fullest lives by helping them prevent or live better with injuries, illnesses, and disabilities. Occupational Therapists, or OTs, use a holistic approach to help people regain or maintain their independence. On a given day, an OT can do everything from helping an elderly person modify their home to prevent falls, to helping someone regain fine motor skills allowing them to bathe and eat independently.

Who Does it Help?

Individuals can benefit from occupational therapy if they:

• Struggle with opening food containers

• Have trouble gripping items like utensils or toothbrushes

• Avoid certain clothing because they find them too difficult to put on

• Have mobility issues or frequent falls and become socially isolated because they cannot participate in the leisure activities they used to love. 

When meeting a new PACE participant, Ally asks what their goals are, and what activities and skills are important to them, and whether they feel safe doing those things.

“As someone who has had to adapt to new physical circumstances, I know we can’t take our ability to do everyday tasks like getting dressed or leaving the house for granted. Sometimes, all it takes for someone to regain their independence are a few in-home modifications combined with consistent occupational therapy.”

Focusing on the Person

For Ally, the innovative PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) model, providing comprehensive medical and social services to individuals age 55+, is what brought her to the nonprofit West PACE. West PACE participants who need medical and supportive care but wish to remain in their own homes, can visit the day center in San Marcos or receive services where they live.

These may include consultations with their providers, socialization and nutritious meals at the adult day center, restorative therapy, dentistry, and more. PACE also supports the caregivers through education and discussion groups. “Working as an OT with West PACE has allowed me to make a real difference, and in a lot of cases, give seniors their lives back,” says Armstrong. “The entire team at West PACE focuses on the individual and knows the key to a healthy, happy life for seniors is preserving independence.”

For more information on occupational therapy and other services offered by Gary & Mary West PACE, please visit www.westpace.org or call 760-280-2230.

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