What to Expect: Rehabilitation After a Traumatic Brain Injury

Has your loved one suffered a traumatic brain injury? Chances are he or she will need to undergo rehabilitation. Learn about rehabilitation basics, why it’s important, and how you can help your loved one as they go through recovery.

Each year, millions of people sustain a traumatic brain injury. While most TBIs that occur are mild concussions, many of them result in death. Those who survive can face effects that last for a few days at best, or the rest of their lives at worst.

While traumatic brain injury sufferers number in the millions, no two injuries are exactly alike. The challenges faced by patients, as well as their families, are also distinctive from one another. A brain injury can affect the way a person walks, talks, thinks, behaves and even feels. Rehabilitation plays an important role in helping patients recover from TBI, with many various kinds of support and services offered in the wake of emergency and early phases of treatment.

What Happens During Rehabilitation After TBI?

Rehabilitation programs are designed specifically for each patient depending on their unique needs and abilities after TBI.

Brain injury rehabilitation programs include those offered within a hospital, other clinical setting, on an outpatient basis, or even at home. The type of rehabilitation that a person receives depends on his or her particular condition and needs. Your loved one’s rehabilitation may include some or all of these:

  • Speech and language therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Cognitive retraining
  • Counseling

Just like in an acute care facility, your loved one will be cared for by a team of professionals, including:

  • Physiatrist – experts in physical and rehabilitation medicine who typically oversee the rehabilitation process
  • Neurologist – trained in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the nervous system
  • Neuropsychologist – specialized psychologists who focus on thinking skills and behavioral issues
  • Rehabilitation Nurse – trained to assist patients in achieving maximum optimal health and adapting to their altered lifestyle
  • Physical Therapist – experts in the examination and treatment of musculoskeletal and neuromuscular problems
  • Occupational Therapist – experts at assessing functions and potential complications related to movement of upper extremities, daily living skills, cognition, vision and perception
  • Speech and Language Therapist – experts who focus not only in retraining communication skills in patients, but also on muscles of the face, throat, and mouth to help with facial expression, chewing and swallowing
  • Social Worker (in some cases) – helps patients and their families understand the services that can provide the best path to recovery

If your loved one has physical impairments as a result of the injury, you may need to obtain equipment that will help with their mobility and support their recovery process, such as:

  • Cane
  • Wheelchair
  • Shower chair
  • Standing frame
  • Communication device

Why is Rehabilitation Important?

The goal of medical professionals in rehabilitation is to:

  1. Help improve the patient’s ability to function at home and in the community
  2. Treat physical and mental problems that resulted from the TBI
  3. Provide emotional and social support
  4. Assist patients in adapting to changes as they occur during the recovery process
  5. Prevent secondary complications, such as blood clots, pressure sores, pain, pneumonia, and muscle weakness and spasm, among others.

How Can I Help?

Your loved one’s treatment team can guide you with regards to the assistance you can provide, being careful not to give them too much or too little help. The best way to learn how to be of help in your loved one’s recovery is to attend therapy sessions with them, as well as work with their therapists and nurses.

Some practical ways to help your loved one once they are given permission to come home include, but are not limited to:

  • Make sure they are given structure and some semblance of normalcy day-to-day
    • Establish a daily routine to help them feel more secure
    • Give them ample time to rest
    • Place objects that they need within easy reach
    • Include them in family activities and discussions
  • Care for them respectfully
    • Treat the person courteously and never talk down to them
    • Don’t make them feel bad about making mistakes (e.g., spilling food, etc.)
    • If they become disoriented or can’t seem to remember how to do something, explain patiently and as simply as possible
    • Respect their preferences when it comes to clothes, entertainment, and food (unless they have dietary restrictions, in which case patiently explain why they can’t have something)
  • Avoid over-stimulating them
    • Limit the number of visitors that can come at a time
    • Speak to them in a calm, soothing manner
    • Avoid taking them to crowded places
  • Make sure your home is as safe as possible
    • De-clutter spaces such as hallways and staircases and remove anything that might trip them up such as rugs, small toys, etc.
    • Remove dangerous objects such as knives, scissors, matches, or guns (if any)
    • Put away objects that can easily get broken, such as ceramic figurines, glass frames, etc.
    • Make sure all exit doors are locked and consider installing some type of exit alarm, so you will be alerted if your loved one tries to leave
    • Restrict access to potentially hazardous places in your house by locking doors, such as bathrooms or the basement where it is easy to slip or fall
    • If your loved one is severely agitated, confused or depressed, make sure there is always someone staying with them

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