Helping Patients Get On The Road Again

Driving Assessment Julie Delgado gets people back on the road, both figuratively and literally. An occupational therapist for 22 years with Memorial Healthcare System, she recently added driving rehab specialist to her impressive list of credentials.

Julie and her colleague Danielle Barber, also an occupational therapist, have collaborated in developing a new program at Memorial Rehabilitation Institute that helps adults of all ages to determine if they are ready to return to driving following a medical event such as a stroke, head injury or amputation.

The ability to drive can be affected by a number of medical issues, including age-related changes, traumatic incidents and neurological or orthopedic disorders.

Under the program, the therapists will assess a person’s abilities and provide recommendations and assistance if needed.

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For Julie, the driving program is a natural progression to her career as an occupational therapist.

“I treat pediatric patients to the elderly after strokes, after traumas, heart attacks… all different types of diagnostic criteria,” says Julie.

Julie is especially involved with stroke and head injury patients. She assesses their ability to care for themselves. She also determines whether it’s time for a patient to go home or tre-transfer to another care facility.

“My neuro population is definitely one of my passions,” she says. “I love being the first person to show them that their arm can move and they will be able to do things they never thought they’d be able to do again.”

In 2015, Julie completed her master’s degree in gerontology. The specialization ties in nicely with the elderly population she serves.

julieIn addition to her daily responsibilities, Julie continually shares innovations relating to stroke rehabilitation, cognitive assessments and driving with the interdisciplinary team.

Her latest venture, though, is acting as a driving rehab specialist.

 “Through the use of evidenced-based testing in addition to our typical assessments of balance, strength and coordination, we can determine if a person is ready to get behind the wheel,” Julie explains. “If they do well enough with us in the clinic, we take them in a car and bring them to a closed parking lot. If they do well with that, we drive in the community in progressively more difficult areas. And, yes, I have a brake on my side.”

One aspect of her role is teaching people with amputations to operate a vehicle using hand controls. She also suggests individualized adjustments to make the driving experience safer and more comfortable.

“Our role is really to serve the community, help people be safe when they’re behind the wheel and to help families know when it’s time for a person to stop driving,” she says.

Though dedicated and passionate about her work, Julie was not initially interested in occupational therapy as a career choice.

Instead, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and considered going into law. She changed her mind the day she shadowed her mother at work.

“My mother always told me I’d be a good OT, but I just didn’t listen to her,” says Julie, whose mom was a psychiatric nurse who worked with OT patients.

“If only I had listened to her in the first place, I would have been in school for four less years.”

To schedule an assessment to schedule your assessment with Memorial Rehabilitation Institute Outpatient Center. call 954-265-5453.