Tag Archives: aneurysm

Give Me Your Best 40%

Good days, bad days.  Everyone has them.  No one minds the good days but the bad days are headaches.  Maybe you didn’t sleep well the previous night.  Perhaps your children were sick and you caught their germs.  The bad days are a regular struggle that we push through.  However, sometimes the bad days seem to knock traumatic brain injury and stroke survivors to an emotionally lower point than prior to their injuries.

Often, patients will apologize to their therapists when they are having a bad day, even though they would not do so on bad days at their former jobs.  In reality, no apology is truly necessary.  Having good days and bad days is not only a natural part of life, but also a natural part of recovery.  A healthy recovery usually looks a lot like a healthy stock market; plenty of ups and downs but generally trending upwards.

On rare occasions, a patient may ask the therapist if he or she could skip the session because he or she is having a bad day.  Unless the patient is deemed unable to participate in therapy by a facility nurse or doctor, the patient will be strongly encouraged to engage in therapy.  This can be a bit confusing for patients.  After all, why shouldn’t they skip rehabilitation on a bad day?  I will explain some of the logic involved in having the patient stay in therapy even on a bad day.

First, as stated earlier, bad days are a natural part of life.  Therapists know that some days a patient cannot give his or her normal 100% effort.  That is fine.  Advances in therapy can be made even on bad days.  A therapist will always take a patient’s best effort, whether it be the patient’s best 80%, 60% or even 40% effort.  Every step forward in rehabilitation is a step in the right direction.  Second, it is important to remember that every activity in rehabilitation is aimed at success following discharge.  At home, just like in rehabilitation, there will be good and bad days.  Survivors needs to be prepared to handle the bad days just like they are prepared for the good days.  For example, a patient may not want to work on hand skills necessary to use adaptive flatware on a bad day.  But what is the patient going to do when he or she is hungry at home on a bad day?  Will the patient not eat because he or she is having a bad day?  Good day or bad day, the same skills will be used to succeed at home and therefore they need to be practiced both on good days and bad days in therapy.

So don’t worry about having a bad day.  Just give therapy your best effort, even if your best effort is only 40%!

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center:


July 4th Fireworks

Every July 4th, Americans across the country light up the sky with fireworks.  This patriotic spectacle is commonly enjoyed at large outdoor celebrations, though often fireworks are also set off at private homes.  This circumstance brings to the fore an issue that we as a society may not generally afford sufficient attention.  Namely,  how do our family and neighbors react to fireworks?

After a brain injury, many survivors are highly sensitive to loud noises.  Fireworks can be quite disturbing to a survivor, even if he or she enjoyed them in the past.  Fireworks may lead to agitation, frustration and acting out.  Prior to attending a fireworks celebration (whether public or private), loved ones should check with survivors and their therapists as to whether those survivors would do well at a fireworks display.  If the survivor chooses to attend a display event, loved ones should have an exit plan prepared just in case the event goes poorly for the survivor.  Neighbors should check with survivors and their families prior to setting off fireworks.  Fireworks are not truly a “private” matter, since everyone in the nearby vicinity will be hearing them whether they wish to or not.  It is not fair for the survivor to be put in serious distress just because a neighbor likes to set off fireworks.

This issue may prove even more pertinent when a survivor is a combat veteran.  Many combat veterans who suffered injuries in battle also have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  PTSD symptoms can include flashbacks in which the veteran feels like he or she is back contending with the relentless stressors of life in combat, painful memories of the trauma of friends dying and serious sleep disturbances. Fireworks can trigger all of these symptoms and more.  Additionally, many in the South have a custom of shooting guns in the air on July 4th.  If fireworks are a bad idea around combat veterans with PTSD, then shooting guns is a horrible idea.  (As a sidebar this practice is simply remarkably dangerous.  This writer knows a woman who was hit by a bullet that was shot by an unknown individual in the air to celebrate a holiday. The bullet fell into an open restaurant area and lodged in her lung.)  The combined effects of a brain injury and PTSD can make these situations especially tricky for veterans.  Loved ones should check with survivors and their therapists as to whether these veteran survivors may have a PTSD-type reaction around fireworks or guns.  Again, neighbors should check with combat veterans to ensure that the neighbors’ celebrations do not harm the psychological well-being of these individuals.  Some combat veterans have taken to putting signs on their lawns identifying themselves as combat veterans and asking others to be courteous with fireworks.  These signs should be taken seriously and neighbors should not shoot fireworks or guns near these veterans.  Again, no one should be forced to suffer in service of a neighbor’s idea of “fun.”

Wishing everyone a Happy July 4th!

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

Left Neglect vs. Field Cut

It is possible for multiple distinct symptoms of an acquired brain injury to present in remarkably similar fashions.  For instance, a brain-injured survivor’s failure to take medication could be due to a memory deficit leading that survivor to simply forget his or her medication or it could be due to an attention deficit leading the survivor to be too distracted to take the medication in question.  In each case the medication was missed, but for acutely separate reasons.  A similar issue comes to light in observation of post-injury visual deficits.  Did a survivor fail to notice information to his or her left due to left neglect or due to a field cut?

Let’s start off with outlining precisely what a field cut is, as it is the simpler of the two to understand.  Under the effects of a field cut, the survivor has actually permanently lost the ability to perceive a portion of the field of vision.  That area of the field formerly available has now been “cut” away.  Due to his or her injury, the survivor is now in effect partially blind.  In medical terms, this loss of vision is often called “hemianopsia.”  So a survivor contending with a field cut has had actual visual loss  in his or her left visual field and thereby misses seeing information on his or her left side.

Left neglect is an attention issue which often manifests in the visual attention domain.  It is associated with an injury to the right side of the brain.  With left neglect, the brain fails to pay attention to information to the left side of the survivor.  If you ask a survivor with left neglect to turn his or her head all the way to the right, he or she will generally turn until the chin reaches the right shoulder.  However if you ask the same survivor to turn to the left, he or she may only bring the chin half-way to the the left shoulder despite fully understanding the request and giving a best effort to fulfill it.  It is almost as if the survivor’s brain is saying, “the left side of the world does not exist.”  The survivor’s eyesight can be perfectly intact, yet his or her brain is ignoring information generated from the left side.  This ignoring is not voluntary; as far as the survivor is consciously aware, he or she did look all the way to the left even though an outside observer can clearly see that the survivor did not make it all the way over.  Again, though it appears functionally as if the survivor has lost vision, the underlying issue is one of attention.

In the case of a field cut, most survivors do reasonably well after becoming sufficiently aware of their field cuts.  They will after enough practice naturally turn and make that extra effort to look for the information in their blind spots.  For a survivor with left neglect, improvement requires not just awareness but also daily repetition of scanning exercises and consistent use of visual aids.  As example, a survivor with left neglect may practice scanning techniques by slowly looking for information on a piece of paper being sure to start all the way on the left of that page before scanning across.  It can also be helpful to put a brightly colored highlighter mark on the paper to identify the far left of the page.  Sadly, in some cases a survivor will suffer from both left neglect and a field cut.  This combination can of course make successful functioning especially difficult, but with appropriate dedication and determined effort most any such goal gains entrance into the realm of the attainable.

I hope this clarifies the differences between left neglect and a field cut.  Please leave me a comment below with any questions, thoughts or ideas!

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

When Can I Return To Work?

One of the main roles we fill in life, and subsequently one of the chief ways in which we define our identities, is through our jobs.  Work is also incredibly important as it provides the money needed to cover the expenses of daily life.  Further it is one of the primary ways we spend our time during the week, taking up at least 40 hours per week for most employed adults.  When a person receives a brain injury, he or she often struggles with being out of work.  Staff at TLC will commonly be asked by a patient “When can I return to work?”  However, this question is far more complex than it appears on the surface.  This post will address some of the issues involved in returning to work following a brain injury.

Jobs differ greatly one from another.  The skills necessary and education required to become a lawyer are completely different from benchmarks met on the journey to a career as a plumber.  Both are highly skilled positions, but each has a very different set of job demands.  For instance, if a plumber lost functioning of his hands he would not be able to return to his job as relying upon excellent hand coordination is an essential aspect of that job.  However as a lawyer’s job generally does not require much or any mandatory use of the hands, that job could be more easily modified to allow the injured lawyer to return to work.  As one example, the task of typing reports could be replaced with use of voice recognition computer software.  The first question that needs to be asked regarding such a return to work is whether the survivor’s current skills are sufficient to facilitate that return, and within that consideration it must be determined what level of modifications might be appropriate.  Does the survivor have the requisite skills to fulfill the demands of the job?  This is a different question than whether the survivor remembers how to do the job.  Most people who have worked the same job for a few years can recite their job requirements in perfectly accurate detail.  This is generally true for brain injury survivors as well.  Following a brain injury, a survivor will more often than not have a functionally intact memory of life prior to his or her injury and therefore be able to easily describe the job activities engaged in that pre-injury life.  The issue is not whether the survivor remembers the job, but whether he or she possesses the skills to do the job right now.

To help determine whether the survivor is capable of meeting the challenges posed by a given job, it is often helpful to make a list of job requirements to be set against a list of the survivor’s strengths and weaknesses.  Each task making up an essential part of the job should be listed.  Often, employers will make available job descriptions and/or task analyses that can help in this process.  Next, survivors should write down their current strengths and weaknesses.  During this activity many survivors tend to report what they excelled at in their lives pre-injury, as the injury itself will generally do little to change that innate understanding of one’s self.  Keep in mind though that the past is in the past; the pertinent question at hand regards what skills the survivor retains at present. Also, the survivor and his or her loved ones should not attempt to take into account how skills might soon improve when creating this list.  As the future is ultimately unknown, it is vital to complete this task listing only the skills the survivor has today.  As weaknesses that may affect job performance are identified, the survivor and loved ones should attempt to identify whether there are ways to remediate a given weakness. For instance, if a survivor’s wheelchair will not fit under a worktable, perhaps lifts can be placed under the legs of the table so as to raise the table and enable the front of the wheelchair to fit under.  In employment law parlance, these relatively minor remediations are generally called “reasonable accommodations.”  It is as a rule mandatory for employers to provide these reasonable accommodations to employees once notified of need.  (For those interested in learning more about these laws, please click on this link to Americans with Disabilities Act: Questions and Answers http://www.ada.gov/q&aeng02.htm)

Unfortunately, not every brain injury survivor can return to a former employment situation.  In some cases, the survivor’s injury deficits may provide simply too great an obstacle to achieving the level of success once enjoyed by that survivor in his or her pre-injury career.  In other cases, a survivor may have been let go by an employer post-injury.  Additionally, some survivors may have been unemployed at the time of their injuries.  To find a new job, the survivor and his or her loved ones need to consider the matching of the survivor’s strengths to possible employment positions.  An important part of this process is listing the survivor’s strengths.  One way of doing this is by creating an employment skills inventory.  It is helpful to break up the various skills into categories.  One such breakdown is as follows:

Cognitive/Physical/Sensory Skills (For example: Walking or Speaking)

Skills and Areas of Knowledge Gained at Previous Jobs (For example: Using a cash register)

Skills and Areas of Knowledge Gained through School/Training (For example: Algebra)

Skills and Areas of Knowledge Gained from Family Members and Friends (For example: Speaking Spanish)

When creating an inventory, it is important to identify each particular skill and area of knowledge as specifically as possible rather than writing them down as more broad statements.  For example, a survivor might want to add to the list skill as a salesperson.  However sales positions are often made up of many distinct component parts such as selling items, servicing customers, completing billing, collecting money and using computerized inventory software.  Each and every skill and area of knowledge should be listed independently regardless of how unimportant one may seem.  Once all of the skills and areas of knowledge are listed on the inventory, survivors and their families can see how these skills and areas of knowledge can combine to match different lines of work.  For instance, a survivor may list that he or she naturally has good speech and organizational skills, has well-developed managerial skills after having served as an officer in the military, has substantial inventory skills gained while working as a clerk in a factory and is fluent in Spanish due to growing up in a Spanish-language home.  In assembling these once disparate facts, it suddenly becomes clear that this survivor may be a strong candidate for a bilingual inventory manager position in a warehouse.

With all of this in mind, it is still not easy to return to work.  Many survivors have been out of work for months or even years prior to attempting a return to the workforce.  It is generally recommended that a survivor return to work on a part-time basis and then slowly move toward a fuller schedule.  There are a few very good reasons supporting this approach.  First, after being out of the employment scene for quite some time, most people lose to a certain degree their “work hardiness.”  Many survivors find that when they first return to work, they become tired far more easily than expected.  It is often necessary for them to build up their strength over time in order to enable them to physically and mentally stay on task for an extended period of time.  Second, by working a shorter day it is easier to identify and correct any possible areas of difficulty that a survivor may encounter due to his or her injury.  As example, if a survivor is working four hours a day and finds that attention deficits are negatively impacting performance, he or she can simply try different methods designed to assist in blocking distractions.  If the survivor is working ten hours a day, it is hard to discern if poor performance is due to injury deficits or is rather due to the unavoidable fatigue that comes with working long hours.  If the survivor is beginning a new line of work (particularly if that work earns the survivor less money or carries less prestige than the survivor’s former employment), it is important to encourage the survivor.  Just getting back to work after a serious brain injury is a tremendous accomplishment.  Further, the first job after a brain injury does not have to be the survivor’s “forever” job any more than a first job out of high school was necessarily his or her “forever” job.  These first jobs can be seen as stepping stones to greater employment success in the future.  Overall, patience is vital in its role central to any successful return to work.

Unfortunately, some brain injury survivors may simply never reach the point at which a return to paid employment becomes feasible.  However, there may be volunteer opportunities that the survivor could engage in which can both occupy his or her time and bring a missing sense of accomplishment and contribution to the larger community into his or her life.  Volunteers are the lifeblood of many charities, hospitals and religious organizations.  Volunteering also provides a useful opportunity to practice post-injury work skills in a safe environment in anticipation of future employment.

There are several organizations that can help a survivor through the post-injury employment process.  In the State of Texas, the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) has a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) department that can help provide therapy and support for brain injury survivors who are strong candidates for employment (http://www.dars.state.tx.us/drs/vr.shtml). In fact, the Transitional Learning Center often works with VR candidates from DARS in order to help those individuals return to employment in their post-injury lives.  The Job Accommodation Network offers excellent information for both employment seekers and employers looking to facilitate the return-to-work process (http://askjan.org/).

Hopefully this post helped outline a few of the considerations important to a post-injury return to work.  Please leave me a comment below with any questions, thoughts or ideas!

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

Supporting Brain Injury Rehabilitation

Texas’ Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) is one of the most important funding sources for survivors of brain injury.  Many insurance companies will not fund certain rehabilitation services, effectively removing survivors’ access to vital opportunities to receive professional care as they struggle through recovery.  Still other survivors were without insurance at the time of their injuries and have no means to pay for necessary therapies.  For many brain injury survivors, DARS is simply the only funding source which will allow them to access the intensive rehabilitation that they need.

As the Texas House and State Legislature are working on the 2016-17 State budget, there is a proposal to fund brain injury and spinal cord survivors on the DARS waiting list.  This would allow for almost 100 more survivors to receive treatment.  Please click on the link below and sign the petition to help bring treatment to these survivors.


Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

Walk for Brain Injury

The Brain Injury Association of America-Texas Division will be hosting a Walk for Brain Injury on Saturday, May 2 at Discovery Green in Houston.  The Transitional Learning Center is proud to be a sponsor of the Walk.  This is a wonderful opportunity to show your support for survivors of brain injuries and their families.  If you are interested in attending the walk, please click on the link below for more information:


TLC will be sending a team led by Music Therapist Amanda Gilbert to show support and to help raise funds for the Brain Injury Association.  If you would like to help Team TLC reach its fundraising goals, please click on the link below.  Every dollar counts!


Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

Passover Adaptations-A Brief Guide

Passover is the central family holiday on the Jewish calendar.  Jewish families come together to celebrate at the Passover Seder the Exodus of the ancient Israelites from Egypt.  Tables are packed with guests and overflow with food as participants read through the Passover Haggadah.  Weeks of cooking, cleaning and preparation all come together on the Seder nights into a full-blown celebration of freedom from Egyptian bondage.  Unfortunately, brain injuries suffered in the wake of a stroke or traumatic brain injury event can impact a survivor’s holiday experience.  There is a tremendous beauty in the Passover Seder but after a brain injury, there are new concerns that survivors and their families may need to consider.  This post will identify some of those concerns and make a few suggestions to aid in addressing them.

There are a number of issues that may need to be addressed regarding the location of a Passover Seder.  First, if the survivor is in a wheelchair or uses another assistive device to aid mobility and is going to someone else’s home, is that home sufficiently accessible?  Keep in mind that it is much easier to get a wheelchair across a hard floor than across carpeting.  Even thin carpet can present difficulties when attempting to turn a wheelchair.  Additionally, is there enough room in the bathroom for a wheelchair?  Should the survivor bring along a urinal if it is too hard to access the toilet?  If the survivor has problems with incontinence, is there somewhere available that the survivor could clean up or change clothes if necessary?  Some families of brain injury survivors may find that it is easier to host Seders at their own homes rather than travel to the homes of others since their own homes have already been adapted to the needs of the survivors. Survivors and their families should also consider the physical layout of the rooms where a celebration will take place.  For instance, it may help to move tables and chairs into a different configuration in order to make it easier for the survivor to move through.   Often, seders take place around a large table.  The survivor may find it easier to sit at the end of the table, particularly if he or she is in a wheelchair, than to sit at the side of that table.  Also, how close does the survivor need to be to a bathroom or an exit?  Some survivors have urinary urges that need to be attended to particularly quickly or may need to make a quick exit in order to counteract the detrimental effects of over-stimulation.  There are many other practical issues to consider regarding the set-up of the holiday meal.  Can the survivor reach a given dish or will he or she need help?  Has silverware been left on a counter that is too high for the survivor to reach?  Can the front of the survivor’s wheelchair fit under the table or will the table need to be raised?  If the survivor uses an augmentative speech device like a letter board, is there room at the table for it?  Is a side table perhaps needed for the device to be placed upon?  Small changes in room and furniture layouts can make a huge difference to both a survivor’s sense of inclusion and his or her overall enjoyment of  the Passover celebration.

Survivors and their families will also want to put thought into how loud a seder may be.  Some survivors find that they are more sensitive to noise than previously and that loud noises may now provide a catalyst for unwanted agitation and/or anger.  These survivors may benefit from attending smaller seders or from being sat away from loud children and other factors contributing unduly to agitation.

Another practical issue relates to the drinking of the four cups of wine on Passover.  The cups of wine take center stage during much of the seder, yet many survivors are unable to drink alcohol as it now presents that much more significant a health risk.  For instance, alcohol mixes poorly with many medications and this dangerous mixture can lead to serious health problems.  This obstacle to full participation may lead  survivors to feel conflicted about the four cups of wine.  The first thing to keep in mind is the vital relevance of consultation with a doctor.  If a doctor has identified consumption of alcohol as a serious health risk for the survivor in question, then by Jewish law that person cannot drink the alcohol.  It is important to keep in mind that maintaining one’s health is one of the 613 commandment in the Torah and it cannot be violated even to honor the four cups of wine at seder.  Many rabbis including Rabbi Soloveitchik (recognized as one of the great rabbinical minds of the 20th century) have ruled that grape juice can be used at seder instead of wine.  Families may wish to have grape juice for all seder attendees instead of wine so that a survivor does not feel left out.  For those that are unable to drink at all due to swallowing issues and may be worried that they are violating Jewish law by not drinking the four cups, a little historical perspective may provide some particularly helpful insight.  The idea that everyone needs to drink four cups is a stricture instituted by Tosafos (a group of rabbis in the Middle Ages).  Technically only the seder leader is required to drink.

There are other considerations that bear mention when it comes to the eating and drinking done on Passover.  Some individuals cannot eat green, leafy vegetables because they interact poorly with medicines such as blood thinners.  This can be an issue as many families use items like parsley during their seder meals.  Survivors and their families should consult with doctors to assess if the amounts of these substances being eaten in these circumstances will be enough to interfere with the the medications in question.  If that does prove to be the case, rabbis and doctors can help identify alternatives.  As example, instead of using parsley as the Karpas vegetable some people use potatoes.  Consulting with a doctor and rabbi can help one to make the best adjustments while still adhering to the requirements of the seder meal.

Some brain injury survivors utilize certain dietary aids after their injuries, such as meal supplements and drink thickeners.  Survivors and their families may have concerns about whether these items violate the laws of Passover due to being chametz (made from leavened items) and for Ashkenazim, if they are kitniyot (legumes).  However, most major supplements and thickeners are kosher for Passover use by those who are sick or are in medical need.  The Orthodox Union (OU) has a lengthy list of such options that are kosher for Passover.


The OU also provides a brief guideline on caring for the infirm on Passover:


For those who are Sephardic, as long as the items do not have chametz, they are kosher for Passover as the issue of kitniyot is just an Ashkenazic issue.

Again, as each survivor’s case differs from the next, it is important to check with both the survivor’s doctor and rabbi prior to deciding if something can or cannot be used or ingested.  For instance, many times people will believe that something is prohibited only to later find that a rabbi rules that it is in fact allowed.

Another issue that can arise is that seder meals tend to be very large with lots of food and this may impact a survivor’s blood sugar levels if he or she has diabetes.  It is important to plan meal choices around this health issue.  Survivors and families should tailor their Passover menus as needed to reduce the chance of dangerous fluctuations in blood sugar.  Also, it should be kept in mind that seder meals tend to be eaten later than is typical of a normal dinner.  For those that have diabetes, it is vital to discuss with a doctor what type of adjustments to medication schedules may be appropriate on the seder nights.  The Jewish Diabetes Association (via the Star-K Kosher organization) has a Passover guide for diabetics:


Passover cleaning and meal preparation can be almost as big a component (and sometimes even  bigger) of the overall celebration as the actual seder meal itself.  Individuals spend many hours cooking and cleaning in preparation for the holiday.  This may be difficult for many survivors who are used to doing the cooking and/or cleaning themselves.  This may cause survivors to confront feelings of uselessness or worthlessness and can represent a significant alteration to roles as they have been thus far understood.  It is important that survivors be allowed to participate in this process in any way that they may be capable.  The survivor may not be fully able to cook the chicken that will be eaten as the main course, but perhaps he or she could chop some of the vegetables for the meal or the nuts to be used for the charoset.  The survivor may not be able to handle a vacuum to clean the carpet, but perhaps he or she could help with sweeping the floors.  The survivor may also be able to help set the table or put out the haggadahs.  There is almost always something identifiable that the survivor can help out with if all involved will simply put sufficient effort into determining just what that thing might be.  If a survivor is living on his or her own and is unable to sufficiently manage Passover cleaning unassisted, he or she may want to ask friends or family to clean for him or her.  Also, many synagogues and Jewish organizations can share means to contact individuals willing to volunteer to clean for those in need or can connect survivors with those willing to do so for a reasonable cost.

Another issue that can come up involves the structure of the Passover Seder.  Many brain injury survivors have shorter attention spans than they had previous to their injuries, and many seders tend to be quite lengthy.  Fortunately, in recent years there have been a number of haggadahs published designed specifically to make seders shorter.  For those with extreme difficulties with attention, Rabbi Yonah Bookstein of the Pico Shul states that he has the shortest kosher haggadah available (which allows one to complete the seder in around 10 minutes):


The 30 minute Seder is another haggadah option available to those seeking a briefer service.  This haggadah was edited by Rabbi Bonnie Kappel of Temple Chai and the US Army Reserves:


The seder is a very language-heavy service which may present particular difficulties for brain injury survivors with aphasia.  Gateways has published a haggadah which is more picture-oriented and includes the use of Boardmaker symbols that many survivors with aphasia already use in conjunction with augmentative speech devices.  This haggadah was written by Rebecca Redner and reviewed by a number of rabbis including Rabbi Neal Gold of Temple Shir Tikvah.  It was created more to aid youth with special needs, but may be more appropriate than other haggadahs for adult survivors with aphasia.


Matan, an organization serving Jewish youth with disabilities, has a number of Passover resources that translate verbal parts of the Seder into visual representations.  Though these picture-centered resources are strictly speaking intended for use by children, adults with aphasia may benefit from an integration of such materials into their Passover activities.


As it is common for family and friends to take turns reading  sections of the haggadah during the seder, survivors with aphasia may feel especially left out of during the seder service.  But just as with the Passover preparation and cleaning, there is almost always a role the survivor can play in this portion of the seder.  For instance, it could be the responsibility of the survivor to dip the green vegetables into the salt water and/or to hand out pieces of matzah to everyone at the seder.  The survivor could have the job of pointing to the shankbone, matzah and bitter herb during the section regarding Rabbi Gamliel.  Survivors with aphasia do also tend to do better with familiar songs.  In spite of a survivor’s struggles with language, he or she might still be just as able to sing the refrain “Dayenu”, as this is a common line that a survivor may well have sung for many years.

Lastly, at some seders there is a general desire to rush through the haggadah to reach the meal or to finish the second half of the haggadah quickly.  Family members and loved ones need to take care to afford sufficient consideration to survivors now contending with slower processing speeds and keep in mind that these survivors will now require that the seder be proceeded through at a slower pace than most may be inclined to attempt.

These are just a few suggestions regarding areas in the Passover Seder that may need to be adjusted after a brain injury in order to better ensure a survivor’s full participation and enjoyment.  Wishing to all a wonderful and meaningful post-injury Passover!

Thank  you to Rabbi Joel Levinson of Temple Beth El of Patchogue for reviewing the content of this post and Rabbi Daniel Masri of Beth Rambam of Houston for providing information on Sephardic practice.

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

Tips for Improving Attention

Attention is an important skill. It plays an integral role in almost everything we do. Attention is vital when we engage in daily activities such as paying bills, driving a car and safely walking through a busy parking lot. After a brain injury, many survivors notice significant challenges in the realm of attention.  Their attention spans may be much shorter, they may find themselves now to be far more easily distracted than they once were, and multitasking may no longer be in any real way feasible. Here are a few tips to help improve attention:

1.  Find a quiet location to work on activities. The more quiet the surroundings, the less likely distraction is to present as a significant factor while completing those activities.

2.  Remove all distracting items such as cell phones, Ipads and radios while involved in activities.  One should also silence ringer/alarms on phones and watches.

3.  Let other people in the vicinity know that silence is needed when working on an activity so as to minimize likely instances of disruption.  Often, a “Do Not Disturb” sign works well to notify others to be quieter.

4.  Break down activities into smaller, simpler tasks. It is much easier to pay attention to smaller, simpler tasks than it is to contend with larger, more complex activities.

5.  Do one activity at a time.  All people, whether they have a brain injury or not, are better at focusing on a task if they tackle just one activity at a time rather than make an attempt to multitask.

6.  Organize activities before starting them. It is far easier to focus on organized activities than it is to grapple with disorganized ones.  Good organization also provides a road map for how one can most successfully approach a task.

7.  Schedule regular breaks during activities. Most people can only pay attention effectively for a limited period of time until they need a rest and that already limited period may be significantly diminished following a brain injury.

8.  Set up a reward to accompany completion of an activity so as to help with motivation and focus.  For instance,  watching a favorite movie or eating a favorite snack could be arranged as a reward to be enjoyed upon conclusion of a task.

9.  Make sure to eat well, stay hydrated and get plenty of rest. If a body is not functioning at its top level, attention skills will often be the first cognitive skills to suffer.  Many brain injury survivors find that strictly adhering to a well-considered health regimen is far more important to success after an injury than it was before.

10.  Ask people to speak slowly or repeat themselves if paying attention when they are speaking proves difficult.  People get far more upset if their audience misses what they are saying than if they have to repeat themselves in order to ensure that they are fully understood.

11.  If in a group of people, be sure to stay facing the person who is speaking.  If there are too many people around to effectively attend to, ask the person speaking if he or she could step away from the group to make focus more attainable.

12.  If in a classroom or meeting, make sure to sit in the front of the room so as to be closer to the speaker.  This not only removes as a factor distracting people and noise along the pathway to the speaker, but it also demonstrates interest in what the speaker has to say.

13.  Place a fan or a white noise machine by doors to help eliminate distracting noise coming from the outside of rooms.

14.  Place a bright colored piece of paper under a book being read.  This helps the eyes to stay focused on the book instead of on outside distractors since our eyes are naturally attracted to the bright color. Also, one can place a brightly colored ruler, index card or piece of paper under the line being read so as to help keep eyes focused on that line.

Hopefully this provided a few ideas on how to help improve attention!

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

Caregiver Burden Part 2: Initial Stages of Recovery

This is the second part of a series on caregiver burden.  As mentioned in the first part, caregivers are right there with brain injury survivors in the trenches of the recovery battle from the very beginning of the injury experience.  They take on a tremendous amount of tasks, emotions and responsibilities which can lead to significant levels of stress.  This stress can negatively impact the health of caregivers.  It is vital for survivors, caregivers and the community around them to understand caregiver burden.  This post will focus on some of the caregiver burden issues involving the initial stages of recovery.

Following the patient’s survival of his or her injury, the patient enters the initial stages of recovery.  When a patient first wakes from a coma, it is not like in the movies when a protagonist will be seen to simply wake up as if from a deep sleep able to immediately resume regular activities.  Most survivors of moderate to severe brain injuries will enter post-coma into a stage called Post Traumatic Amnesia, often referred to as PTA.  During PTA, the survivor may be moving or talking but there are some key features that make this stage very different from later stages of recovery.  First, as per the name, survivors contending with PTA have extremely poor memory skills.  A friend can have a conversation with a survivor with PTA, walk out of the room for fifteen minutes, and then return to find that the survivor has no memory whatsoever of the conversation just had or even that the friend had visited at all.  Second, survivors in the midst of struggles with PTA often will have temporary changes in personality.  They can in many cases be more impulsive and aggressive than was once typical for them.  In fact, they may need medication in order to help calm them.  They may be confronted by numerous  hallucinations and/or delusions.  Often such delusions will take on a paranoid tone with patients possibly believing that nurses and other healthcare professionals are trying to kill them or that family members are trying to steal their money.  Third, these patients generally have poor awareness of deficits and tend to act in an unsafe manner.  Considered on the whole, brain injury survivors in PTA can have moments in which they are quite abusive to loved ones (even though they may not truly intend to be abusive).  This can be very tough on the caregivers who just went through the trauma of nearly losing those loved ones and who now only want to support their loved ones’ recoveries.  Moreover, due to poor awareness these survivors will often reason with, beg and plead for the caregivers to get them out of the hospital or rehabilitation facility even though there is a clear need for treatment.  It is a source of immense emotional strain for caregivers to constantly have to tell the survivors that they cannot simply be taken home and that the survivors need to remain in treatment.

As the survivor improves and emerges out of PTA, these early stages of recovery can be exciting as caregivers are able to track clearly identifiable improvements from each day to the next. However, this is also the time when caregivers confront some of the first true reality checks indicating just how long a process they now face.  During the initial crisis stemming from the injury event, the focus of the families is primarily on survival and families do not have much opportunity to ponder the long-term effects of the injury upon the lives of those involved.  As families come out of “survival mode” and bear witness to those first few faltering steps on the road to recovery, the reality sets in that the process of recovery is far more of a marathon than a sprint.  Part of the central misunderstanding often encountered can be traced to the fact that most peoples’ familiarity with injuries doesn’t extend very far beyond that of a broken bone or similar injury.  The formula in such a scenario tends to be relatively straightforward:  the doctor operates on the injured body part, the patient takes some time to allow for the healing of that body part and then following a brief passage of time everything is better.  Brain injuries can be relied upon to almost never adhere to such a formula, and this is particularly the case when moderate to severe brain injuries are involved.  A surgery cannot undo the brain damage suffered in the wake of a stroke or car accident.  The brain heals at a much slower rate and active, persistent rehabilitation is necessary in order to achieve the positive results so desperately sought by survivors and their loved ones.  In this initial stage, caregivers often begin to worry about how long recovery might take and to what extent the survivor will even be capable of a recovery.  They begin to worry about how deficits suffered will affect things such as interpersonal relationships and work life.  There is often a general fear of re-injury that lasts throughout the recovery process and beyond.  Day to day improvements witnessed often bring hope, but a slow rate of recovery just as often contributes to inescapable, nagging doubt.  On top of everything else, while they are experiencing their own doubts, caregivers often go to great lengths to display only unflagging hope to the survivor that the survivor will see an excellent recovery.

During this initial stage of recovery, families also start to feel the first stress of financial changes brought about as  a result of the injury.  Hospital bills begin to come in and at the same time income may drop due to the survivor being unable to work.  Caregivers themselves will often find it necessary to spend significant time away from work as they monitor loved ones.  Many hospitals charge for parking and caregivers may spend hundreds of dollars in a single month just to spend time with their loved ones.  Financial arrangements often must be made to address necessary equipment not covered by insurance (presuming that the survivor even has insurance).  Often this is also the first time for stressful battles with insurance companies over locating rehabilitation opportunities.

Moreover, friends and family members tend to loyally visit the survivor and support the caregiver during the period immediately surrounding the injury event but as time goes on, the phone calls and visits tend to decline and the caregiver may begin to feel more and more alone.  Those friends and family members can return to their lives from the world wrought by the survivor’s injury. Unfortunately the caregiver is afforded no such luxury.

There are a few suggestions that may help caregivers during these initial stages of recovery.  This is often a good time for caregivers to explore engaging in their own psychotherapy and/or counseling.  Caregivers need to remember that they cannot do their best to support loved ones if they do not allow themselves to accept appropriate help. The stress of caregiver burden is tremendous and often professional support is needed. Some caregivers may benefit from a medication regimen (such as taking anti-depressants).  Caregivers often benefit from support groups attended by other survivors and caregivers who can offer guidance through the recovery process (See the following blog post for more information: https://tlcrehab.wordpress.com/2015/01/16/the-role-of-support-groups/) .  This is also a time when brain injury education can help the caregiver to better understand the situation now faced.  Caregivers should ask therapists and doctors to sit with them and explain to them the details of the survivor’s brain injury.  They should also ask for help finding books, websites and pamphlets that can lead to a more complete understanding of the injury.  The Brain Injury Association of America (www.biausa.org), American Stroke Association (www.strokeassociation.org), Brainline (www.brainline.org) and the Transitional Learning Center blog (tlcrehab.wordpress.com) are good resources to look to when embarking upon that learning process.

Caregivers often need to remind others that support remains just as vital well past the point of the survivor’s struggles in the throes of that initial near-death situation.  Family and community members need to make extra effort to continue to call or visit.  A simple letter or email can help the caregiver feel less alone and more supported.  Family or community members can be tremendously helpful in giving the caregiver a break by staying with the patient so as to give the caregiver opportunity to get some much-needed rest or take care of neglected personal needs.  Even just an hour break to allow for a caregiver to get his or her hair cut can offer a significant level of dearly appreciated relief.  Community members can also organize rallies or fundraisers to help support the emotional and financial needs of the survivor and caregiver.  Such rallies and fundraisers can give a tremendous lift to the beleaguered spirits of those navigating the injury experience.

These rank among the more pressing issues that contribute to caregiver burden during the initial healing stages.  It’s hoped that employing the strategies shared above can serve to mitigate said issues.  Feel free to comment below with any ideas or suggestions.

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org

New Big 12 Concussion Policy

The Big 12 Conference, one of the most important conferences in Division I college athletics, has instituted a new concussion policy.  The Big 12 Conference includes college athletics powerhouses such as the University of Texas, the University of Oklahoma and Baylor University.  There are two pieces to the policy which strike as particularly important.  First, the new policy affords university medical staff position to make the sole and incontrovertible decision as to whether or not an injured player should be allowed to return to play while also removing from the teams’ coaches purview any form of employer’s authority over the medical staff.  This allows medical staff to make important medical decisions in an environment absent any fear of retribution from coaches.  Second, it states that any player diagnosed with a concussion cannot return to play or practice the day that that concussion is suffered.  This will hopefully eliminate dangers presented by the previous practice of returning concussed players back into games where they then face risk of suffering a more serious subsequent brain injury.  Remember, concussion is just another word for brain injury.  This truly is a step in the right direction when it comes to the reduction of brain injuries experienced in the world of college athletics and the improved treatment of those injuries suffered.  The link below will take you to the Big 12 press release covering this new concussion policy:


Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org