The physical, neurological and emotional challenges that may arise from an acquired brain injury (ABI) are vast. Different causes and injuries create consequences that vary among individuals. Therapists need to be perceptive in order to both address struggles and provide avenues for constructive thinking.
One of the largest hurdles therapists encounter in rehabilitation with individuals who have suffered an ABI is the patient often lacks insight into their own deficits. Their injured brain signals they are fine and can successfully perform activities they used to do before injury, when in fact they may be struggling with anything from orientation and memory to executive function. This is challenging for family members and caregivers and is also is a barrier for treatment if the patient does not come to terms with these new deficits. Although insight typically improves to some degree as the patient progresses, giving the right level and amount of explanation about what has happened and future planning is helpful.
A thorough evaluation should be completed early on to identify cognitive deficits. Once strengths and deficits are identified, treatment can begin. Include tasks to promote gains in deficit areas such as memory and attention, such as deductive and/or abstract reasoning tasks, working memory tasks or word-retrieval activities. Also think about how strengths can be utilized to assist in this process. If a patient’s reading comprehension is better than auditory comprehension, printed information should be used to improve their ability to comprehend spoken information.
Combat common struggles by demonstrating compensatory strategies that aid the individual in participating in life activities. For patients experiencing memory and organization deficits, be prepared with a list of smart phone apps and functions they can use to set alerts for appointments, manage tasks, make lists, etc.
Fatigue is common in individuals recovering from a brain injury. Their brain is working “overtime” to make sense of things, and performing tasks successfully may take a great deal of conscious thought and effort. Assist patients in creating a schedule to work on their cognitive exercises and/or stay active in doing their daily activities, and include rest to help the brain recover. Once the brain begins to fatigue, there is a decrease in function. The patient will notice activities and tasks become harder, and head pain may also occur. This should signal the patient that it’s time to rest.
Lastly, there are things the brain injury survivor can focus on that will help their recovery, including:
- Accepting their new persona
- Allowing themselves to make mistakes
- Striving to keep a positive attitude
- Remembering they can continue to improve
Continued improvements may be the most important point in keeping your patient motivated. In years past, it was commonly accepted that after a window of about three years, the brain would not have any further recovery. It is now known that neuroplasticity allows for continued recovery over time with focused effort. Different parts of the brain can establish neuropathways and take over functions lost through damage to other parts of the brain.
Area Manager Jean Herauf, SLP has 30+ years’ experience, more than 20 of them with RehabVisions. Jean is active in her clinic’s local brain injury support group and has attended numerous courses over the years, and read a good deal on ABI.