As occupational therapists, each of us has encountered a person who insisted on doing things “their way.” We’ve all seen the patient that rushes through a treatment stating, “The faster I get this done, the sooner I can get back to my room and lie down; I’m tired you know.” Little does the person realize that by rushing, they will tire faster! It is during these frustrating moments that an occupational therapist has an opportunity to provide important patient education.

Picture energy as water in a bucket. Each morning your bucket is filled to the top when you start the day. But, there is a small hole in the bottom of your bucket, where water drains out slowly. As long as you are careful there is enough water in the bucket to last you all day long. However, if you move quickly and carelessly the water will also spill out over the top of the bucket and before you know it your bucket full of energy is empty.

In order to keep the energy bucket filled, it is important for each person to be knowledgeable on how to complete activities without spilling the water through the use of “energy conservation” techniques. When applied properly patients will be able to reduce the amount of effort needed to perform daily tasks, eliminate unnecessary or redundant tasks, increase the amount of free time they have each day and spend more time enjoying rewarding tasks of their choosing.

Here are a few tips that can be easily implemented into a daily routine:

Rearrange Your Environment
Keep frequently used items in easily accessible places. Replace existing heavy items with lighter ones.  Install long handles on faucets and doorknobs.  Adjust workspaces to eliminate awkward positions, including altering the height of tabletops or desks. Bad posture will drain energy!  Wear an apron with pockets to carry around cooking utensils or cleaning tools.   Consider a “first floor set up” to eliminate stair climbing.

Eliminate Unnecessary Effort
Sit, rather than stand, whenever possible – while preparing meals, folding laundry, ironing, etc.  Use proper body mechanics when completing a task.   Use adaptive equipment to make tasks easier (e.g. reachers, shower chairs, jar openers, and long handled sponges will decrease the amount of effort necessary for a task).

Plan ahead
Gather all of the supplies you will need for a task before starting.  Cook in larger quantities and refrigerate/freeze extra portions for later.  Work rest breaks into activities as often as possible so that you can take a break BEFORE you get tired.  Schedule enough time for activities and plan ahead; rushing and wasted trips will drain energy.  Try keeping a daily activity journal for a few weeks to identify times of the day or certain tasks that result in enhanced fatigue.

Eliminate or reduce tasks that aren’t necessary or aren’t important to you. – Delegate tasks to friends/family that are willing to help.   Consider hiring professionals such as cleaning or lawn care services (for example) to cut down your workload.

When educating any one, the most important thing for a clinician to remember is that each person is different. Start an education session by having the person describe their daily routine from start to finish and help them identify areas that might be “energy drainers” and work with them to modify their daily schedule accordingly. If a person feels that you truly understand what their concerns are, they will be more receptive to your recommendations and achieve better functional outcomes.

Beth Reigart
Clinical Operations Specialist