Kate SheehanKate Sheehan is the director of The OT Service and she writes a regular column in every issue of The OT Magazine. Her latest column looks at the importance of rehousing and recycling mobility equipment.


My mum has recently moved from the large family home to a one bedroomed retirement flat. A fantastic move, which has given her a new lease of life, she is close to the library, shops, cafes and a bus stop. She is enjoying her newfound freedom of using her bus pass to pop to the shops or visit friends.

Arriving at this point has been traumatic, for her and the immediate family, emptying your family home which is full of memories, has been difficult for us all. We have made discoveries of letters written in the first world war from our Great, Great Uncle Gordon, who died aged 21 in WWI, post cards from the grandchildren with the most hilarious spelling mistakes, the best one being ‘Get batter sone grannma’ and leaving the house for the last time, felt unbelievably heart-wrenching.

However during the process a couple of key things have come to mind that we need to understand as occupational therapists.

  1. Rehousing

We often talk to our clients about ‘suitable’ housing and maybe the need to move, but do we really understand what this means to our clients?

It has taken my mum three years to make the decision and although we all knew it was the right thing to do, she struggled with leaving a home with so many memories and felt she was letting dad and us all down.

We should not expect our clients to move quickly or without significant thought, a home is much more than mere bricks and mortar and to dismiss this could put clients’ mental health at significant risk. It should be discussed, planned and the benefits clearly defined.

Remember a home you have lived in for decades cannot be dismissed due to a recent medical crisis or long-term chronic condition, a home is part of a person and we need to keep our clients at the centre of what we do.

We need to ensure that any losses are balanced with renewed opportunities for occupation, in this case the ability to access shops independently, socialise at the café and library and build new friendships.

  1. Recycling

As you can imagine, a large house down to a one bedroom flat was always going to be difficult, what does mum take, what goes to family and what goes elsewhere? We are a family of ardent recyclers and it has been a struggle not to put stuff in landfill.

It made me think again about the amount of equipment that is dumped because it is not financially viable to clean it and re issue it. My mum only had a few pieces of equipment, most of which are going with her, but the stairlift is no longer needed, it has cost £330 to remove it, which mum can pay but what happens if you can’t? Will it end up in landfill?

I was thinking about this and it made me wonder, do we as occupational therapists have an ethical duty to make sure we look after the planet and do not overuse resources? I believe we do.

  • When working with a client are we first thinking ‘rehab’? Can we work with our clients to adapt the task and make them independent without equipment?
  • If we provide equipment, is it recyclable? We can all influence equipment procurement and request or demand that it can all be cleaned, washed and reused.
  • If we see equipment dumped, we should be letting the equipment stores know and encouraging collection.
  • Is there a point where environmental impact outweighs personal choice?

We have a duty of care to the next generation to look after our planet, so let’s start a revolution by only providing equipment that can be reused and not dumped.

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