What Is Brain Injury Rehabilitation?

Anyone who sustains a brain injury faces a difficult road to recovery – if recovery is possible. Any type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) or illness that caused brain injury can have permanent effects. In some cases, a brain injury victim may be able to recover almost completely, but virtually every brain injury entails some form of lasting damage.

Brain injury rehabilitation focuses on two different processes: restoration and compensation. First, rehabilitation experts will determine which functions are reparable. If they cannot restore functions, then they will help the patient learn how to compensate by doing things differently than before the injury.

Effects of a Traumatic Brain Injury

Even mild or moderate TBIs leave long-lasting effects. Many people who suffer TBIs experience several symptoms, which can include:

  • Cognitive impairment. The victim may have difficulty thinking, solving problems, and processing sensory information.
  • Communication problems. Brain injuries that affect the brain’s speech and language processing centers may leave a victim unable to speak or understand speech.
  • Sensory complications. A TBI victim may experience sensory confusion or have difficulty processing visual, aural, olfactory, or tactile sensory input.
  • Personality changes. TBIs can leave victims with impaired memory, mood swings, or even completely different personalities. These issues can make social engagement or workplace activities very difficult.
  • Physical impairment. The TBI victim may be unable to control bodily functions, walk, use his or her arms, or have difficulty with fine motor functions.

During rehabilitation, caregivers will assess the effects a TBI has had on a patient and determine whether the damage is repairable and to what degree. Their first priority is typically stabilization and prevention of secondary or tertiary complications. During the first phases of brain injury rehabilitation, the caregivers will help a patient recover as much as possible before starting work on recovering lost functions. This may entail physical therapies, such as teaching a patient how to walk again or restoring range of motion to other parts of the body. However, most of the rehabilitation necessary after a TBI has to do with the cognitive effects, so recovery is much more complicated.

Cognitive Therapy and Learning New Functions

Every TBI is different and every TBI patient will face unique challenges. Cognitive and physical therapies may run in tandem depending on a patient’s status. For example, a patient who retains most cognitive abilities but experiences severe physical loss of function will likely focus on physical therapy before moving on to occupational therapy. During occupational therapy, caregivers will help a patient relearn basic living skills and ensure the patient can handle everyday life.

Some TBI victims’ symptoms are permanent. A permanent loss of function will require learning new ways to complete tasks or other alternative solutions. A right-handed TBI victim who loses the use of his or her right arm will need to learn to write left-handed, for example. A patient who suffers blindness will need to learn to read braille and use a walking stick. The road to maximum possible recovery is typically long and difficult once TBI victims recover from the immediate effects of an injury.