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Rehabilitation Following Brain Injury
By Michelle L. McCann, OTR/L, CBIS

Each year, it is estimated that 1.7 million people (www.cdc.gov) will sustain a brain injury in the United States. Fortunately, due to advances in medicine and emergency treatment interventions, more people are surviving severe brain-injury related incidents. Unfortunately, many people with ‘mild’ forms of traumatic brain injury, such as concussion from falls or ‘bumps’ on the head, continue to go untreated. The importance of early intervention, including comprehensive brain injury acute rehabilitation certified programs cannot be overlooked.

The type and degree of disability that follows a brain injury depends upon which area and how much of the brain is damaged. Brain injury can affect physical, cognitive, and psychological skills throughout the lifespan causing overwhelming impairments. With effective rehabilitation, many individuals can make significant gains in ability and quality of life.

Acute rehabilitation brain injury certified programs offer an interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, therapists, case managers, and psychologists that can integrate all of the care needs and goals of the individual. Rehabilitation is based on the concept of brain plasticity, which implies that it is possible to facilitate other areas of the brain to ‘pick up the load’ for other damaged areas of the brain. Acute rehabilitation therapies are specifically geared toward this re-education process and the development of lost skills while accommodating for specific physical, cognitive, or psychological impairments.

The initial focus of acute rehabilitation is on functional communication, mobility, activities of daily living skills, coping mechanisms, and safe discharge to home of the patient. Rehabilitation nurses and physical, occupational, and speech therapists help patients to perform progressively more demanding and complex tasks. Rehabilitation technologies can be used along the way to enable an individual to recover lost or abnormal arm and leg function. Many tools now assist in the recovering of swallowing, visual, and cognitive function. Acute rehabilitation therapists often are required to obtain ‘higher’ level certifications to offer this ‘high-tech/high-touch’ level of care that is not often offered in other settings such as skilled nursing centers.

Certified brain injury rehabilitation programs also incorporate key family members during daily therapy to enable the carryover of safe techniques. In preparation for discharge, case managers offer a hands-on approach to ensure continuity of care from inpatient to outpatient services. Outpatient services can further promote independent living skills and successful community reintegration (work or school participation) for the patient and family.

In closing, finding the right treatment for any injury or disease is important. Brain injury is no exception. With new promising rehabilitation advances, brain injury certified programs are committed to a higher level of care. The intensity and availability of these services results in a more advanced level of functional recovery and discharge back to the community for the patient. Even though rehabilitation does not ‘cure’ the effects of the brain injury, certified acute rehabilitation brain injury programs can significantly reduce the areas of deficits and promote achievable long-lasting outcomes for the patient.

Michelle L. McCann is Therapy Manager and Acquired Brain Injury Program Manager, HealthSouth of Sewickley. For more information, visit www.demandhealthsouth.com.

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