By Bill Herrin
Thinking comes so naturally that most people take it for granted, but after a traumatic brain injury – many times, thinking can be more of a deliberate action. It takes focus and effort to put a series of thoughts together after TBI, to speak clearly, or to even move. Simply put, the brain (like the body) takes time to heal. Since no two brain injuries are identical, there is no clear path to better cognition. There are, however, certain broad directives that can get you moving in the right direction in most situations. The hardest part of this is to accept your “new normal”. Acceptance, once you come to terms with it, gives you the desire to work toward the goal of better cognition, coordination, memory, anger management, judgement, attention, and other challenges. Once you accept your situation isn’t going to change overnight, you can start the process of healing, along with testing your limitations. Although finding your limitations is difficult, knowing what they are is a huge step towards improvement in areas that need changing. When a person lacks enough cognition to be self-aware or to strive towards improvement, that’s a test for the caregiver’s guidance and patience. Sometimes just being there for your friend, spouse, or loved one is all you can do.
As a caregiver, high expectations from a TBI survivor shouldn’t be overly discouraged, as they can bring progress through their desire to improve. They may not reach the goal they wanted to, but they’ll make strides towards it! That is positivity in its purest form. Nobody wants to be working through such a huge change in their life without encouragement – cheer them onward and upward! Even if they fail, they are trying, and that shows initiative. Their desire to improve should never be underappreciated.
When cognition is in the early stages of improvement, the changes may be noticed more by the family or caregiver than they are by the survivor. Sometimes incremental change is just too subtle for survivors to realize, but pointing out the changes to them is incredibly positive reinforcement. The following tips on cognition are excerpted from Lash & Associates’ tip card titled “Cognition – Compensatory strategies after brain injury”
Cognitive fatigue is one of the most common consequences of brain injury. The survivor’s brain is simply working harder to think and learn. Cognitive rest is just as important – maybe even more important – as physical rest after the brain has been injured. Cognitive fatigue can have a ripple effect. You may have a shorter temper, find it harder to concentrate, make more errors, misplace things or forget appointments. You may feel like you can’t think straight no matter how hard you try. Many survivors describe cognitive fatigue as “hitting the wall”.
• Feel tired after mental exertion?
• Have a harder time thinking after working on longer or more complex tasks?
• Need more sleep than usual?
• Find it hard to get through the day without napping?
Tips on compensatory strategies…
• Take breaks.
• Schedule rest periods.
• Use a daily planner.
• Use time management strategies.
• Eat nutritious meals on a regular schedule.
• Go to bed at a consistent time.
– Create a weekly exercise routine.
• Request a medical evaluation.
• Discuss medications that may help with a physician specializing in brain injury rehabilitation.
There are a plenty of great suggestions for compensatory strategies for survivors and their caregivers in the tip card referenced above. Here’s a link to it here!
When it comes to cognitive functional rehabilitation – seek professional advice first (of course), but when the TBI survivor is at home with a caregiver, clinician, friend or family member, there are some great approaches to working on communication, social interaction, organization, reading, attention, problem solving, and rebuilding other deficits through consistent application by any or all of the people involved in the care of the TBI survivor.
Referencing the book titled “Cognition Functional Rehabilitation Activities Manual” (Developed by Barbara Messenger, MEd, ABDA and Niki Ziarnek, MS, CCC-SLP/L), I’m sharing an excerpt that provides a glimpse into the workbook’s approach to helping a person with cognitive challenges. Many of the exercises use interaction and documentation to assess where the TBI survivor is at (cognitively speaking) on an ongoing basis. Remember, this is a workbook, and there are plenty of exercises that build activities and responses ongoing. Here is the example of how the manual challenges a TBI survivor with structured and specific activities:
Task: Provide awareness training.
- Prompt participant to work on awareness training.
- Ask why participant is here receiving rehabilitation.
- Ask what skills/activities are harder since the brain injury.
- Ask what participant does to compensate for these difficulties and which therapies address them.Ask what participant’s strengths are (what is participant good at?).
- Ask the participant how the brain injury and difficulties affect daily activities.
- Provide answers and examples when needed.
- Provide positive reinforcement for strengths, being receptive to information regarding brain injury, for participating in the task, and for being motivated to participate in rehabilitation.
Staff Reminder: (clinician, caregivers, family, etc.)
Provide a complete description of this activity in the Functional Rehabilitation Documentation Form.
By asking specific questions, and recording the corresponding answers, this workbook is a great tool for tracking progress – and the exercises can be done more than once, to check and see how/if the answers have changed. So, what’s the takeaway from this excerpt? It illustrates that structure and consistency of care and treatment by family/caregivers and professionals can overlap and create a solid overview of cognitive deficits, and improvements.
In closing, the main goal of this post is to address the expectations of TBI survivors and their caregivers, to encourage them to strive for progress and to offer resources for compensatory strategies, and cognitive rehabilitation. If all parties work in tandem with the common goal of helping a TBI survivor make it to the next level, they’re all closer to the goal…and the whole team wins. That’s the goal!