Ruth Zemke PhD, OTR, FAOTA
Professor Emeritus of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Ruth Zemke is an internationally recognized leader in the development of occupational science. She received her B.S. degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Wisconsin. Her M.S. degree as well as her Ph.D. degree are in Human Development from Iowa State University. As Co-Principal Investigator on the USC Well Elderly Project, she utilized her interest in applying concepts of occupational science to occupational therapy practice. Her basic focus remains on understanding the characteristics of occupation, especially the temporal and spatial ones. Recent awards include the USC International Student Assembly Faculty Appreciation Award and the Award of Excellence from the Occupational Therapy Association of California. She has served on the University-wide Faculty Committee on Appointment, Promotion and Tenure committee as well as on the Academic Senate Faculty Rights and Responsibilities Committee and has been a grant reviewer for the American Occupational Therapy Foundation. A national and international presenter, her articles have appeared in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, OTJR: Occupational Therapy Journal of Research, Allied Health and Behavioral Science, and Physical and Occupational Therapy in Geriatrics.
Liu, Y., Zemke, R., Liang, L., & McLaughlin Gray, J. (2023). Occupational harmony: Embracing the complexity of occupational balance. Journal of Occupational Science, 30(2), 145-159. https://doi.org/10.1080/14427591.2021.1881592 Show abstract
Occupational balance is a central concept in occupational science, but it is complex and lacks an agreed-upon definition. Further, the concept has not been given significant attention by scholars outside Western societies. Building upon traditional Chinese culture and Chinese scholars’ Human Complex System Theory, this article presents a proposed Model of Occupational Harmony, offering an Eastern understanding of how the orchestration of everyday occupations relates to health and well-being. The notion of occupational harmony highlights harmonious human-environment transactions as the essence of the phenomenon and integrates multiple perspectives in previous occupational balance literature, including activity patterns, time use, occupational characteristics, need satisfaction, and biological rhythms. It is asserted that occupational harmony can be characterized as complex equilibria among three pairs of two-sided occupational characteristics and achieved via harmony among five dimensions of occupational engagement and coherence across multiple levels of human-environment transactions. This article is a beginning theoretical conceptualization of occupational harmony, allowing occupational scientists to embrace the complexity of the orchestration of occupational engagement.
Keywords. Occupational science, Occupational balance, Culture, Occupational engagement, Systems theory
Clark, F. A., Blanchard, J., Sleight, A., Cogan, A., Eallonardo, L., Floríndez, L., Gleason, S., Heymann, R., Hill, V., Holden, A., Jackson, J. M., Mandel, D. R., Murphy, M., Proffitt, R., Niemiec, S. S., Vigen, C., & Zemke, R. (2015). Lifestyle redesign: The intervention tested in the USC Well Elderly Studies (2nd ed.). Bethesda, MD: American Occupational Therapy Association. Full text Show abstract
Reorganized, expanded, and updated, this new edition of the award-winning Lifestyle Redesign gives practical guidance in this preventative occupational therapy program for independent-living older adults. The work integrates the concept of the USC's landmark Well Elderly Studies, which determined that preventive occupational therapy greatly enhances the health and quality of life of independent-living older adults.
Twelve modules, including those on longevity, stress, home safety and navigating health care, illustrate how to incorporate the program into practice. Includes a flash drive with program handouts.
Frank, G., Block, P., & Zemke, R. (2008). Anthropology, occupational therapy and disability studies: Collaborations and prospects [Introduction to special theme issue]. Practicing Anthropology, 30(3), 2-5. Full text Show abstract
A profession exists that shares interests with medical anthropology and applied anthropology to promote health and well-being through everyday activities, meaningful routines, and social participation. The profession is occupational therapy. Increasing numbers of anthropologists have professional credentials as occupational therapists, or work with occupational therapists, and collaborate also with disability studies scholars and activists. They share a mission is to define and clear new pathways to health, well-being, and social justice.
Frank, G., & Zemke, R. (2008). Occupational therapy foundations for political engagement and social transformation. In N. Pollard, D. Sakellariou, & F. Kronenberg (Eds.), A political practice of occupational therapy (pp. 111-136). Edinburgh, UK: Churchill Livingstone.
Flinn, N. A., Jackson, J. M., Gray, J. M., & Zemke, R. (2008). Optimizing abilities and capacities: Range of motion, strength, and endurance. In M. V. Radomski & C. A. T. Latham (Eds.), Occupational therapy for physical dysfunction (6th ed., pp. 573-597). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Full text
Hay, J., LaBree, L., Luo, R., Clark, F. A., Carlson, M. E., Mandel, D., Zemke, R., Jackson, J. M., & Azen, S. P. (2002). Cost-effectiveness of preventive occupational therapy for independent-living older adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 50(8), 1381-1388. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1532-5415.2002.50359.x Show abstract
Objectives. To evaluate the cost-effectiveness of a 9-month preventive occupational therapy (OT) program in the Well-Elderly Study: a randomized trial in independent-living older adults that found significant health, function, and quality of life benefits attributable to preventive OT.
Design. A randomized trial.
Setting. Two government-subsidized apartment complexes.
Participants. One hundred sixty-three culturally diverse volunteers aged 60 and older.
Intervention. An OT group, a social activity group (active control), and a nontreatment group (passive control).
Measurements. Use of healthcare services was determined by telephone interview during and after the treatment phase. A conversion algorithm was applied to the RAND 36-item Short Form Health Survey to derive a preference-based health-related quality of life index, quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), and the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio for preventive OT relative to the combined control group.
Results. Costs for the 9-month OT program averaged $548 per subject. Postintervention healthcare costs were lower for the OT group ($967) than for the active control group ($1,726), the passive control group ($3,334), or a combination of the control groups ($2,593). The quality of life index showed a 4.5% QALY differential (OT vs combined control), p < .001. The cost per QALY estimates for the OT group was $10,666 (95% confidence interval = $6,747–$25,430). For the passive and active control groups, the corresponding costs per QALY were $13,784 and $7,820, respectively.
Conclusion. In this study, preventive OT demonstrated cost-effectiveness in conjunction with a trend toward decreased medical expenditures.
Clark, F. A., Azen, S. P., Carlson, M. E., Mandel, D., LaBree, L., Hay, J., Zemke, R., Jackson, J. M., & Lipson, L. (2001). Embedding health-promoting changes into the daily lives of independent-living older adults: Long-term follow-up of occupational therapy intervention. Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 56(1), 60-63. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/56.1.P60 Show abstract
The Well Elderly Study was a randomized trial in independent-living older adults that found significant health, function, and quality of life benefits attributable to a 9-month program in preventive occupational therapy (OT). All participants completing the trial were followed for an additional 6 months without further intervention and then reevaluated using the same battery of instruments. Long-term benefit attributable to preventive OT was found for the quality of interaction scale of the Functional Status Questionnaire and for six of eight scales on the RAND SF-36: physical functioning, role functioning, vitality, social functioning, role emotional, and general mental health (p < .05). Approximately 90% of the therapeutic gain observed following OT treatment was retained in follow-up. The finding of a sustained effect for preventive OT is of great public health relevance given the looming health care cost crisis associated with our nation's expanding elderly population.
Jackson, J., Mandel, D. R., Clark, F. A., & Zemke, R. (2001). Promoting quality of life in elders: An occupation-based occupational therapy program. World Federation of Occupational Therapists Bulletin, 43(1), 5-12. https://doi.org/10.1080/20566077.2001.11800258 Show abstract
The practice of occupational therapy for elders is becoming more challenging. This article presents Lifestyle Redesign, an intervention model that promotes quality of life in well elders. Studies will be discussed that demonstrate the long-term efficacy of this treatment and that support the use of occupation-based occupational therapy for independent living. The key concepts of the program and process of delivery will be addressed. Finally, the necessity for cultural sensitivity on a global level will be discussed as it relates to designing similar programs for other cultures.
Keywords. cultural sensitivity; lifestyle redesign; independent living; well-elders
Jackson, J. M., Kennedy, B. L., Mandel, D., Carlson, M. E., Cherry, B. J., Fanchiang, S. P., Ding, L., Zemke, R., Azen, S. P., LaBree, L., & Clark, F. A. (2000). Derivation and pilot assessment of a health promotion program for Mandarin-speaking Chinese older adults. The International Journal of Aging & Human Development, 50(2), 127-149. https://doi.org/10.2190/9V9H-E4L7-BTJP-9WMJ Show abstract
As the percentage of older adults of diverse ethnicities increases in the United States, the call for culturally sensitive health care service strategies that target the special needs of older people grows. The present report describes methods used to adapt a health care program so that it would better meet the needs of a group of well, older Mandarin-speaking Chinese residents of Los Angeles. The specific qualitative research procedures that we used to adapt the treatment program are described, along with the particular adaptations that emerged. Additionally, outcomes from a randomized pilot experiment are presented that are consistent with the notion that the adapted program was effective in reducing health-related declines among older Mandarin-speaking men and women. The overall outcome of this project is in agreement with other reports in the health care literature that address the importance of providing culturally sensitive health care service for elders.
Mandel, D. R., Jackson, J. M., Zemke, R., Nelson, L., & Clark, F. A. (1999). Lifestyle redesign: Implementing the Well Elderly Program. Bethesda, MD: American Occupational Therapy Association. Full text
Jackson, J. M., Carlson, M. E., Mandel, D., Zemke, R., & Clark, F. A. (1998). Occupation in lifestyle redesign: The Well Elderly Study occupational therapy program. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 52(5), 326-336. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.52.5.326 Show abstract
This article describes an innovative preventive occupational therapy intervention for well older adults, the Well Elderly Treatment Program. In a previously reported large-scale randomized effectiveness study, this intervention was found to be highly successful in enhancing the physical and mental health, occupational functioning, and life satisfaction of multicultural, community-dwelling elders. In this article, the philosophical background, manner of development, topical content, methods of program delivery, and mechanisms underlying the program's positive effects are discussed, along with implications for occupational therapy practice. The treatment was based on application of occupational science theory and research and emphasized the therapeutic process of lifestyle redesign in enabling the participants to actively and strategically select an individualized pattern of personally satisfying and health-promoting occupations. The wide-ranging effectiveness of the program supports the occupational therapy profession's emphasis on occupation in affecting health and positions practitioners to extend their services to the realm of preventive interventions.
Clark, F. A., Azen, S. P., Zemke, R., Jackson, J. M., Carlson, M. E., Mandel, D., Hay, J., Josephson, K., Cherry, B., Hessel, C., Palmer, J., & Lipson, L. (1997). Occupational therapy for independent-living older adults: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 278(16), 1321-1326. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.1997.03550160041036 Show abstract
Context. Preventive health programs may mitigate against the health risks of older adulthood.
Objective. To evaluate the effectiveness of preventive occupational therapy (OT) services specifically tailored for multiethnic, independent-living older adults.
Design. A randomized controlled trial.
Setting. Two government subsidized apartment complexes for independent-living older adults.
Subjects. A total of 361 culturally diverse volunteers aged 60 years or older.
Intervention. An OT group, a social activity control group, and a nontreatment control group. The period of treatment was 9 months.
Main Outcome Measures. A battery of self-administered questionnaires designed to measure physical and social function, self-rated health, life satisfaction, and depressive symptoms.
Results. Benefit attributable to OT treatment was found for the quality of interaction scale on the Functional Status Questionnaire (P=.03), Life Satisfaction Index-Z (P=.03), Medical Outcomes Study Health Perception Survey (P=.05), and for 7 of 8 scales on the RAND 36-Item Health Status Survey, Short Form: bodily pain (P=.03), physical functioning (P=.008), role limitations attributable to health problems (P=.02), vitality (P=.004), social functioning (P=.05), role limitations attributable to emotional problems (P=.05), and general mental health (P=.02).
Conclusions. Significant benefits for the OT preventive treatment group were found across various health, function, and quality-of-life domains. Because the control groups tended to decline over the study interval, our results suggest that preventive health programs based on OT may mitigate against the health risks of older adulthood.
Clark, F. A., Carlson, M. E., Zemke, R., Frank, G., Patterson, K., Ennevor, B. L., Rankin-Martinez, A., Hobson, L. A., Crandall, J., Mandel, D., & Lipson, L. (1996). Life domains and adaptive strategies of a group of low-income, well older adults. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 50(2), 99-108. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.50.2.99 Show abstract
Older adults are at increased risk for a variety of physical and functional limitations that threaten their ability to lead independent and fulfilling lives. Consequently, they stand to benefit from personalized strategies of adaptation that enable them to achieve successful outcomes in their daily activities and desired goals. In the current investigation, a qualitative descriptive methodology was used to document the perceived life domain of importance and associated strategies of adaptation of 29 residents of Angelus Plaza, a federally subsidized apartment complex in downtown Los Angeles for low-income, well older adults. On the basis of interview data, 10 life domains were identified, and within each domain, a typology of adaptive strategies was derived. The domains were activities of daily living (ADL), adaptation to a multicultural environment, free time usage, grave illness and death–spirituality, health maintenance, mobility maintenance, personal finances, personal safety, psychological well-being and happiness, and relationships with others. Although the typology should not be generalized to a geriatric population, therapists may wish to refer to it to gain a sense of the extent to which certain adaptive strategies may be applicable to the lives of particular older adults to whom they deliver services. The teaching of these adaptive strategies could then be incorporated into an individualized treatment plan.
The typology also provides a broad picture of the kinds of adaptive strategies used by the older adults as a way of coping and adapting to their setting. Although some of the domains do not differ from those typically addressed in occupational therapy textbooks on geriatric care (e.g., ADL, health maintenance), others seem uniquely tailored to the specifics of the Angelus Plaza context (e.g., personal safety). Finally, certain domains emerged that may be highly relevant to older adults in most settings but are not typically the focus of occupational therapy programs (e.g., grave illness and death–spirituality, relationships with others). The emergence of these domains from our data suggests that therapists may wish to consider them more in treatment if they are convinced that they possess local relevance.
Carlson, M. E., Fanchiang, S. P., Zemke, R., & Clark, F. A. (1996). A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of occupational therapy for older persons. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 50(2), 89-98. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.50.2.89 Show abstract
Given the current health care debate, it is imperative to document the usefulness of various health services for older persons, a rapidly growing population at increased risk for a wide variety of physical and functional impairments. A meta-analysis was conducted to examine the degree of effectiveness of occupational therapy for older persons. For a sample of 15 distinct tests of occupational therapy, a positive unweighted mean effect size of .51 (54 when corrected for instrument unreliability) was obtained, along with a highly significant cumulative result for treatment success (p < .001). Beneficial treatment effects extended to activities of daily living—functional and psychosocial outcomes. The results for physical outcomes suggested a beneficial effect, although not every meta-analytic test yielded significant results. It was concluded that factors such as publication bias or poor study design are incapable of accounting for the positive meta-analytic result and that occupational therapy represents a worthwhile treatment option for older persons.
Zemke, R., & Clark, F. A. (1996). Occupational science: The evolving discipline. Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis.
Gray, J. M., Kennedy, B. L., & Zemke, R. (1996). Application of dynamic systems theory to occupation. In R. Zemke & F. Clark (Eds.), Occupational science: The evolving discipline (pp. 297-324). Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis.
Clark, F. A., Zemke, R., Frank, G., Parham, D., Neville-Jan, A. M., Hedricks, C., Carlson, M. E., Fazio, L., & Abreu, B. (1993). Dangers inherent in the partition of occupational therapy and occupational science [The issue is]. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 47(2), 184-186. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.47.2.184
Clark, F. A., Parham, D., Carlson, M. E., Frank, G., Jackson, J. M., Pierce, D., Wolf, R. J., & Zemke, R. (1991). Occupational science: Academic innovation in the service of occupational therapy's future. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 45(4), 300-310. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.45.4.300 Show abstract
Occupational science is a new scientific discipline that is defined as the systematic study of the human as an occupational being. A doctoral program in occupational science has been established at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. With its emphasis on the provision of a multidimensional description of the substrates, form, function, meaning, and sociocultural and historical contexts of occupation, occupational science emphasizes the ability of humans throughout the life span to actively pursue and orchestrate occupations. In this paper, occupational science is described, defined, and distinguished from other social sciences. A general systems model is presented as a heuristic to explain occupation and organize knowledge in occupational science. The development of occupational science offers several key benefits to the profession of occupational therapy, including (a) fulfillment of the demand for doctoral-level faculty members in colleges and universities; (b) the generation of needed basic science research; and (c) the justification for and potential enhancement of practice.
Yerxa, E., Clark, F. A., Frank, G., Jackson, J. M., Parham, D., Pierce, D., Stein, C., & Zemke, R. (1990). An introduction to occupational science: A foundation for occupational therapy in the 21st century. Occupational Therapy in Health Care, 6(4), 1-17. Full text Show abstract
Occupational science is an emerging basic science which supports the practice of occupational therapy. Its roots in the rich traditions of occupational therapy are explored and its current configuration is introduced. Specifications which the science needs to meet as it is further developed and refined are presented. Compatible disciplines and research approaches are identified. Examples of basic science research questions and their potential contributions to occupational therapy practice are suggested.
December 21, 2017
Professor Emeritus Ruth Zemke has been selected as the 2018 recipient of the American Occupational Therapy Association’s Award of Merit. The rarefied honor, to be formally awarded at the 2018 AOTA Conference in Salt Lake City, recognizes those select few who have made notable contributions to the…
December 6, 2016
USC Chan faculty members Cermak and Clark among all-time notables
June 23, 2016
By Mike McNulty Florence Clark, associate dean, chair and Mrs. T.H. Chan Professor of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, delivered the 2016 Thelma Cardwell Lecture at the University of Toronto on June 22. Her lecture, entitled “Occupational Therapy as Life Design: Fortifying Health and…
Jamie Black, in
USC Undergraduate Admissions Blog | November 1, 2021
The Bachelor’s to Doctorate (BS-OTD) in Occupational Therapy major is housed in the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. This major is open to incoming freshmen pursuing a career in occupational therapy. This accelerated program allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree and doctorate degree in occupational therapy in just 6 years.
Alicia Di Rado, in
USC News | November 5, 2004
The American Occupational Therapy Association has granted its highest academic honor to Professor Emeritus Ruth Zemke of the USC Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.
USC News | June 23, 2000
A recent book by USC Occupational Therapy faculty members has been ranked among the top 250 health publications for 1999, according to Doody Publishing and Review Service.
Eva Emerson, in
USC News | October 24, 1997
Occupational therapy (OT) can make a significant difference in helping seniors experience healthier, more independent and satisfying lives, according to a recent study by researchers on the Health Sciences Campus.
Michael Byrne, in
USC News | June 27, 1994
The Department of Occupational Therapy has been awarded a $1 million federal grant to study the effectiveness of occupational therapy as a means of enhancing health and well-being and maintaining independence among elderly people.