By now it should be clear that different professions conceptualize elements of later life through different lenses. In particular, the meaning of function differs, with implications for evaluation and intervention to support well-being. Biologists emphasize the function of anatomical structures and physiological processes. Sociologists focus on function in social, cultural, and environmental contexts. Occupational therapists and physical therapists define function as ability to accomplish those activities that individuals, families, and communities need and want to do.
Having examined the many factors that contribute to function as understood by occupational therapy and physical therapy, it is time to focus on the activities themselves. Just as biological and social factors change throughout the life course, so do occupational profiles. Self-care requirements and wishes change, the balance of work and leisure shifts, and many other elements of occupational constellations alter. And, as is true of biological and social factors, there are both general, common age-related changes and highly individual needs and preferences.
This section of the text explores important categories of occupation in detail. By now it will come as no surprise that while these chapters describe general characteristics of occupational categories, the way they are enacted and interact for specific individuals is unique. Some individuals may well prefer to receive help with self-care or instrumental activities of daily living so that they have more energy for meaningful leisure occupations. Other elders may retain a fierce sense of independence with regard to taking care of their basic needs. Of course, in addressing these preferences, consideration of context is vital. An older adult might prefer to be assisted with self-care, but if his or her social support network does not offer such help, either resources must be identified or strategies for simplifying the activities must be considered.
Such consideration may extend to thinking about strategies for using technology (both high and low tech) to support function, thus maximizing independence and minimizing the need for human assistance. In addition, careful consideration must be given to driving and other community mobility, both as occupations in their own right and as a means to access occupations.
Ensuring that older adults have the greatest possible opportunity to enact meaningful occupations is a complex undertaking that requires careful evaluation. The final chapter in this section explores strategies for accomplishing that evaluation.