Tag Archives: traumatic brain injury

New Technology Can Lead To More Success

Technology plays an ever-increasing indelible role in our modern lives.  Just as our phones and televisions are enhanced by new technological advancements,  so does neurorehabilitation from brain injuries benefit in a similar fashion.

Technological advances and applications for that new technology in rehabilitation come from different sources.  There has been a steady improvement in proprietary technologies catering to therapists and doctors who treat individuals with brain injuries.  These new technologies aid in a wide range of therapies, from helping a patient to re-learn swallowing skills to improving gait training.  Two common such examples can be seen in a patient working on a task while wearing electrodes to stimulate particular muscle groups or one walking laps while a programmable hoist unloads a percentage of that patient’s body weight.

Separately but related, most patients now integrate smart phones, Ipads, tablets and other such technology into their daily lives.  These items can be very useful in compensating for certain deficits.  For instance, many patients use their smart phones to keep track of their schedules and to program reminder alarms for daily activities.  There are numerous speech apps that can be downloaded to Ipads which enable patients to engage in more effective communication with others.  The cameras now included as feature of virtually every cell phone and tablet PC prove useful in compensating for deficits in visual memory.These new technological advances benefit patients in multiple ways.  Many of these technologies enhance the effectiveness of therapies.

This brings greater success in individual therapies and thus in overall rehabilitation.  Other technologies provide new ways to compensate for deficits.  This helps reduce the lasting impact of injuries on patients’ daily lives.  Additionally, patients enjoy certain technologies that can make the daily work of therapies feel more fun or interesting.  This helps keep patients motivated in those therapies.  The pertinent role of the therapist is to identify which technologies will benefit which particular patient as each patient is different both in therapy needs and in personal comfort level with new technologies.

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center! Visit us at: http://tlcrehab.org/

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Different Parts, Different Speeds

Brain injury survivors and their families often ask doctors and therapists about how long it will take for brain injuries to heal.  This would seem like a simple and straightforward question, but the answer to this question is actually quite complex.  One of the chief factors that makes any such answer so complex is that different parts of the brain may heal at different speeds.

We often talk about the brain as if it were one unitary body part, but in truth it is made up of many interconnected parts.  For instance, there are distinct left and right sides of the brain that are connected by a set of neurons known as the corpus callosum.  Each side of the brain can be split into many different component parts.  These parts function interdependently, but each part has its own unique purpose.

When a survivor received a brain injury, different areas of the brain may have been damaged at different levels of severity.  Which parts suffered damage at what levels of severity will differ from person to person and from injury to injury.   With so many parts of the brain being impacted differently by an injury, it is very common that a brain injury survivor will see improvements in some areas faster than in others.  For instance, if the part of the brain responsible for speech comprehension was less injured than the speech production part of the brain, that survivor will likely gain back the ability to understand verbal communication well before ability to convey information through speech returns.  If the part of the brain governing leg movement was less injured than the part of the brain controlling the arms, then that person is likely to see a return of the ability to walk through a doorway prior to being able to once again turn a door knob to open that door.  Ultimately, having different skills return at different rates of speed should be understood as a normal and expected part of the brain injury recovery process.

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center! Visit us at: http://tlcrehab.org/

What Language Do You Speak?

 

There is an interesting phenomenon often observed in brain injury survivors who were bilingual to the extent of fluency prior to their injuries.  In these survivors who have post-injury language deficits the first (native) languages tend to return more quickly and fully than do their second languages.  This is true even in survivors who were fully fluent in a second language and used that second language extensively in their everyday lives.  As TLC is located in Texas, our staff tends to observe this phenomenon most often in Spanish-English bilingual patients.  Many of these patients now contending with language difficulties who learned English later in life find it far easier to name objects or follow directions when Spanish is used, while prior to their injuries they would have been comfortable using either language.

This return of the first language sooner than a second language can have a number of practical consequences.  Many survivors understandably become frustrated at an inability to speak that second language with the same skill once demonstrated.  Being bilingual is often a point of pride and may have previously allowed the survivor to excel in activities (such as import-export business transactions) that the average person could not.  This sudden significant skill gap may even prevent these survivors from returning to jobs in which a second language was utilized as a vital portion of everyday business life.  Moreover, if the survivor was previously the primary translator for the family this may cause difficulties in the family’s ability to interact with the outside world.  For example, the survivor may have previously served as point person to get information from school regarding a child’s performance as that survivor could easily speak to school officials (and the rest of the family may struggle with casual exchanges in English).  If the survivor is now unable to converse fluently in English, the family may now face significant problems interacting with the school.

There are also practical therapy concerns when a survivor struggles with a second language if that second language is the primary language used in the larger community.  In America, English is obviously the dominant language.  As such, most pre-therapy evaluations are conducted in English.  There are a limited number of health care professionals who are comfortable conducting evaluations in another language.  However, if a survivor’s first language is not English and that survivor is significantly stronger in his or her first language, that first language will need to be the language used in evaluations so as to get the most accurate measurements of the survivor’s skills.  The same is true in therapy.  If a survivor understands therapy directions significantly better in a first language, then therapy should be conducted in the survivor’s first language.    Additionally, therapists should always inquire as to which language is used in the home.  If the survivor’s first language is different than the language used at home (seen when someone who speaks both Spanish and English marries a spouse who only speaks English), then that second language will need extra focus or alternative methods of communication (e.g. pictures or hand signals) may need to be introduced.  At TLC, we have a number of Spanish-English bilingual staff and have a contract with a translation service if other help is needed.  Overall, rehabilitation professionals must be aware of survivors’ language skills and adjust evaluations and therapy accordingly.

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center! Visit us at: http://tlcrehab.org/

 

Signs of Left Neglect

Left neglect is one of the more curious symptoms of brain injury.  Briefly, left neglect is an attention deficit in which a patient’s brain essentially tells that patient to ignore the left side of his or her world.  For that individual, it is almost as if the left side of the world does not exist.  It is most commonly observed when a patient ignores items in the left visual field (even when visual acuity is perfect) but can also involve hearing and sensation on the left side.  Left neglect is due to an injury to the right side of the brain.  Different techniques (such as practicing scanning skills) are used to help manage left neglect.  For more general information on left neglect, please see these previous posts on the topic:

What is Left Neglect? https://tlcrehab.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/what-is-left-neglect/

Left Neglect vs. Field Cut https://tlcrehab.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/left-neglect-vs-field-cut/

What I would like to do with this post is to give a few signs that rehabilitation professionals commonly observe when diagnosing cases of left neglect.  Below is a list of these common indicators of left neglect.

1. The patient only eats food on the right side of plates and does not notice food on the left side.  Often the patient will complain that he or she is not being fed enough because the patient believes that he or she is only being offered half-sized portions (since food to the left is necessarily ignored).

2. The patient bumps against objects with the left side of the body or wheelchair.  For instance, the patient may catch the left side of a door frame as he or she attempts to enter or exit a room.  Typically, patients who are just beginning to understand their left neglect and have yet to become proficient in scanning techniques will have bruising visible along the left arm or leg.  Staff often have to monitor patients in wheelchairs who have left neglect to ensure that the patients’ left arms do not fall down and get caught in the wheels of their wheelchairs.

3. The patient does not face people to his or her left, even when talking with these people.  Many times the patient may begin a conversation face to face, but slowly during that conversation his or her gaze can be observed to drift to the right.

4. The patient only shaves the right side of the face, only washes the right side of the face or only puts make-up on the right side of the face.

5. The patient misses words on the left side of the page.  This can cause a patient to complain that the reading material he or she is given does not make sense because the patient does not realize that he or she is only reading words on the right side of the page.

6. The patient is unable to find rooms located on the left side of a hallway.  Sometimes a patient will claim that a room has “moved” or “disappeared” since the patient cannot find the room in question.

7. The patient will start all activities on the right side and not make it all the way to the left. As example, a patient may play Connect 4 and only place chips on the right half of the board.  The patient may also be seen squeezing all his or her writing onto the right side of a page while leaving the left side of the page entirely blank.  When drawing a picture, the patient may leave a similarly barren left side of the page upon completion.

8. The patient complains that he or she is losing hearing in a left ear even though audiological testing shows no hearing loss.

9. In extreme cases, a patient may not recognize a left arm or leg as being his or her own body part.  When the patient sees this limb but does not recognize it, he or she may even make a complaint such as that a stranger has joined him or her in bed.

I hope this post helps everyone understand some of the more common signs of left neglect that rehabilitation professionals often observe!

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center! Visit us at: http://tlcrehab.org/

Open Communication

The brain injury experience is a remarkably complex one.  Overnight, so many things change and so many adjustments need to be made.  Throughout this experience, brain injury survivors have goals, concerns and aspirations.  Survivors’ loved ones will have their own goals, concerns and aspirations as well as they come to terms with their own roles in this new and dauntingly complex experience.  These two sets of expectations may or may not fully match up with one another.  Survivors and their loved ones will all try their best to achieve desired outcomes.  Sometimes  differences in respective desired outcomes can lead to conflict.  One of the most common contributing factors to such conflict is poor communication.

Family members, injury or no injury, tend to make assumptions about one another.  In fact, we all engage in some form of attempted “mind reading” in which we guess at what another person is thinking.  For instance, if one person pauses to look at a second person prior to walking through a doorway that second person may “mind read” and think, “The other person is looking at me because he wants me to enter the doorway first.”  There are no actual words spoken in this momentary exchange, only valid assumptions made.  This method will generally work well enough in simple situations, but problems  arise when we engage in such “mind reading” in place of actual open communication regarding more substantial and  important issues.  A simple look or smile does not say “I am hoping that a month or two after discharging from therapy I can return back to working and driving” or “I am worried that my son will want to return to mountain climbing where he could fall and suffer further brain injury”.

A good place to start open communication is with a family meeting explicitly organized to talk through the goals, concerns and aspirations of all involved.  The meeting should be planned in advance and all parties informed of its purpose.  This gives each family member time to organize his or her thoughts about pertinent issues.  Many survivors benefit from writing down a list of topics they’d wish to discuss at this meeting in order to ensure that they don’t forget to raise a given subject.  A meeting of this sort need not necessarily determine the final word on any topic.  In fact, it can be a good idea to state from the start of such a meeting that participants are in no way required to (and may not even be expected to) agree with what others are saying.  Particularly at the first meeting of this sort, it is not important to make decisions regarding the future.  Instead it is more important to open the lines of communication so each person can know what all others are thinking and “mind reading” can be avoided.  Opening the lines of communication in such a formal manner may seem awkward to some, but it helps ensure that the goals, concerns and aspirations of each family member will actually be discussed and addressed rather than being lost in any number of side conversations.  Once these lines of communication are opened and everyone has a chance to freely discuss thoughts and sufficiently convey perspectives, it is much easier in the future to re-visit these topics in a constructive manner.  Open communication will ultimately allow family members to walk hand-in-hand into the future with less conflict.

 

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center!  Visit us at: http://tlcrehab.org/

 

How Can I Support A Caregiver?

As modern medicine improves and our population ages, more individuals are able to live longer with serious health issues including permanent deficits resulting from a brain injury.  This notable demographic shift places more loved ones in the position of serving as long-term caregivers.  These caregivers need all available support from those around them but many of those capable of offering assistance are simply unaware of how best to help.  Here are a few quick suggestions on how to support caregivers:

1.     Call them and ask how you can help.  Caregivers may feel shy or embarrassed to initiate requests for help but are often far more receptive to assistance if it is offered.   This gives caregivers opportunity to request specific aspects of help most needed at a given juncture, and they will certainly be grateful for all help shared.

2.    Offer to have the caregiver and survivor over for a meal or to deliver a meal to them.  With all of the responsibilities that caregivers meet on a daily basis, having someone else take care of even a single meal can be a source of welcome relief.

3.    Be there to listen.  Many caregivers feel overwhelmed by their experiences.  A friendly phone call or visit with a supportive ear helps relieve some of this emotional burden.  Knowing that others care about their well-being is very important for caregivers in maintaining their own emotional health.

4.    Be a friend to the survivor.  After their injuries, many survivors find that their social circles quickly shrink.  Some caregivers can find themselves serving as the only social outlet for the survivors in their lives.  This can be a source of tremendous additional stress in the life of a caregiver.  Being a part of the survivor’s social circle reduces the need for the caregiver to fill all of these social roles.  Moreover, the survivor is sure to appreciate this as well!

5.    Offer to spend time with the survivor so the caregiver can spend a little time tending to his or her own needs.  As a result of devotion to meeting needs of a survivor, it’s all to easy for caregivers to end up neglecting their own.  A few brief hours just to cover an unhurried trip to the grocery store, hair salon or doctor’s office (or simply to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee on their own) can do wonders for a caregiver’s quality of life.

6.    Take a moment out of your day to send a card, e-mail or flowers.  Sometimes we don’t have a lot of time to spare for lengthy calls or visits but a quick note to say “hello” tells the caregiver that they are not forgotten.

Hopefully this list will give you ideas to start reaching out and supporting caregivers!

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center!  Visit us at: http://tlcrehab.org/

Utilizing Music For Mood

Music has the amazing power to touch our hearts and souls.  The right song at the right time can move us in powerful ways, eliciting emotions ranging from brightest joy to deepest sorrow.  Harnessing the power of music can also help brain injury survivors (along with the rest of us) make it through their days more successfully.

It is a common sight at a gym to see the majority of participants working out with music in the background to help keep them motivated and driven.  This music tends to be upbeat and intense.  This workout music highlights the ability of music to boost our performance.  Survivors may want to consider using similar energetic background music while they are working out, whether in a gym or in therapy, to help them when they might be feeling low in energy.  However, it is important to ensure that the music does not distract the survivor.  An example of this pitfall to be avoided can be observed in a survivor suffering from substantial deficits in the arena of attention.  A catchy song could cause this survivor to sing along and devote a disastrous lack of attention to foot placement while practicing walking.  Finding the balance (whenever possible) between drive and distraction is important.  Energetic music may also help mitigate general fatigue that can occur at any part of the day.

Music has the ability to lift us when we feel down.  Following a brain injury, many survivors will display acute symptoms of depression or at the very least be significantly (if understandably) sad about their situations.  Survivors should identify songs that lift their moods and listen to that music when they find themselves feeling low.  These songs often tend to incorporate themes of hope and joy.  Religious music is also a very popular and effective source of this helpful form of mood modulation.

Many survivors also face serious difficulties with stress and anger.  Certain music can help individuals to relax and stay calm.  Soft, classical music tends to be popular to ease stress and anger though other types of music can do this as well.  Some individuals prefer listening to sounds of nature (such as waves lapping upon a beach) to reach a more calm state.  Meditation music is a hot market and there is a huge amount of excellent music available both in stores and online.

Not every song will help with every mood and sometimes the music that is most helpful may not be the survivor’s favorite song or from a favorite band.  What is most important is that the music in question leads to the emotional experience that the survivor would like to cultivate.  Technology has advanced exponentially over the last few years, and survivors should take full advantage.  A survivor can keep a playlist of songs to help influence his or her emotions on a smartphone, Ipod or other similar device that can then be accessed throughout the day.  Remember that music can be an important part of any recovery process!

Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center!  Visit us at: http://tlcrehab.org/

 

 

 

It’s Ok To Do It Differently

When I was a senior in high school, I had a physics teacher whose outlook differed from that of most science teachers.  Early in the year she told us that when we answered questions on her tests, she did not care about how we came to a given answer.  As long as that answer was correct, the method by which it was arrived upon did not matter.  Work did still have to be shown as in any other science class.  Even if that work bore no resemblance to that which she had prescribed though, a result was perfectly acceptable provided that the answers matched.

In many ways a healthy approach to rehabilitation is similar to this outlook championed by my former physics teacher.  Due to their injuries, rehabilitation patients are often unable to complete tasks in the same manner as they did before.  For instance, a patient with only one functioning hand will not be able to cut vegetables for a salad as he or she did prior to the injury but utilizing a one-handed rocker knife produces the same results.  A patient who has trouble speaking may not be able to verbally place an order at a restaurant but typing the order into an Ipad speech app produces the same results.  As you can see, there are often multiple methods by which to accomplish a given goal.  Effectiveness is the most important measure of a method’s worth, not whether it is identical to a previous method.

The idea of reaching the same goal through different methods sometimes bothers patients and their families.  In some cases, patients and their families refuse to use alternative methods because they are focused on doing things in exactly the same way as they have in the past.  A patient completing minor tasks just as he or she did prior to an injury holds strong appeal as a signifier of a return to normalcy.  However, due to the injuries this may not be realistic either at this stage of rehabilitation or for the foreseeable future.  Accepting alternative methods consistently allows patients to be far more functional in both work and home environments.  These alternative methods often allow patients to be more independent whereas insistence upon pre-injury methods can  bring with it a dependence on others.  It is important that patients and their families embrace alternative methods of accomplishing daily goals so that patients can achieve at their highest levels.  This open-minded attitude often yields the best long-term therapy results.

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

The Problem With the Word “Should”

The word “should” may be one of the most hazardous words in the life of a brain injury survivor.  It tends to appear in sentences such as “I should be walking already” or “I should have been back at my job by now.”  The word confers a tremendous degree of expectation on the survivor and implies that somehow the survivor is a failure if he or she has not achieved what he or she “should” have achieved.  Often, this word sparks a cascade of statements by which survivors verbally punish themselves.  “I should have been able to walk without a wheelchair but I instead I fell.  I should be doing better with my mobility.  I am letting down my whole family!”  These “should” statements can easily lead to depression, stress and damaged self-esteem.

The reality is that each brain injury heals at its own rate and as a result each survivor is left with his or her own unique set of challenges.  After a serious brain injury, it often takes a survivor considerably longer than he or she may expect to reach goals due to the severity of the injury suffered.  An injured brain is not like a broken arm.  You cannot put a brain in a cast as you would put an arm, expecting that in a relatively brief period of time the brain will be healed.  Brain injury rehabilitation is a process that takes time and patience.  The only applicable “should” enters into consideration in emphasizing that the survivor should dedicate full effort to his or her therapies.  That is all anyone, including the survivor, can reasonably ask for.  As long as the survivor is giving his or her best effort, the survivor is doing everything in his or her power to get better.  The rest of the process will depend on time, the practicing and learning of new skills and how the survivor’s individul brain heals following a specific injury.  Recovery cannot be rushed or forced.  “Should” statements that imply that somehow recovery ought to have gone differently are thus plainly revealed as emotional snares best avoided.

 

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

 

Why Are We “Suddenly” Hearing About Brain Injuries

Brain injuries are a hot topic in today’s media.  Whether it be football players with lasting damage due to concussions, soldiers suffering from brain injuries due to overseas conflicts or the latest youth sports concussion protocols, it seems that there are suddenly many news stories on brain injury that simply were not around just five or ten years ago.  Some individuals may be cynical and wonder whether brain injuries are simply the “diagnosis of the moment”, one of the many diagnoses that are suddenly “hot” but will disappear over time.  To those individuals, I would like to offer several rational reasons why brain injury stories have become more prominent over the last few years.

First, many people are now living with brain injuries who would have died from their injuries in previous eras.  The medical world has advanced significantly over the years and now doctors are able to save the lives of people who would have otherwise died. However, just because their lives were saved does not mean they emerged from their health emergency unscathed.  These survivors often have brain injuries which require treatment.  Please allow me to give an example of this change over time.  I once was talking over lunch with an older rabbi about Transitional Learning Center.  He relayed a story about his time at a synagogue many decades ago in Indiana.  A young man in his community had a serious motorcycle accident and as his rabbi, he visited the young man in the hospital.  After conversing for a while and finishing his visit, the rabbi exited the room.  As he left, the doctor pulled him aside and said “You know he will be dead in three days”.  The rabbi was shocked, having just had a full conversation with the young man.  But the doctor was correct.  The hospital had no means to manage his brain injury.  Due to either brain swelling, bleeding or both (the rabbi did not know the details), the young man passed three days later.  Today, a person with a similar motorcycle accident would have a surgery and other potential procedures to manage his injury and would stand a good chance of living, albeit with a brain injury.  Similarly, improvements in military field medicine are allowing many soldiers to survive blasts and other dangers that would have killed them in previous battles.  Thankfully, these soldiers still have their lives, but often struggle with long-lasting brain injuries suffered in their military service.

Second, it is important to acknowledge the active suppression of information regarding brain injuries in certain circles that is only recently coming to light.  Most famously, the NFL actively denied and hid data on the long-term brain injury effects of concussions to former football players.  Through a series of lawsuits, the NFL opened up about brain injuries and is now acknowledging the long-term injuries that many former players have suffered.  This has led to a complex $1 billion settlement for players with long-term effects of brain injuries.  Following these court cases, many other lawsuits have been filed against other professional and amateur sports, leading to further agreements and new safety protocols.  The suppression in the past contributed to an artificial perception that brain injuries were less common than they actually were.

Third, we are in an age of information so it is much easier to learn about what is happening to people across the country, and even across the world.  Just think about how often you hear or read stories about a robbery or kidnapping occurring hundreds of miles from where you live.  Until the age of the internet, most of those stories would be confined to local media.  Now, stories can go “viral” and suddenly everyone knows the details.  This phenomenon is equally true in the realm of brain injuries.  A simple keyword search of “brain injury” will bring up a plethora of local stories that prior to the age of the internet would have been hidden from most of the world.  These local stories existed in the past but only now d0 we have so much access to them.

Fourth, we are now having a more honest conversation about brain injuries.  In the past, people generally did not talk about brain injuries.  Athletes and soldiers rarely mentioned their deficits due to fear of sounding “weak”.  Individuals with brain injury deficits from car accidents, strokes or other methods were often afraid of negative views and discrimination if others knew about their deficits.  We are now coming to an age of sharing without fear.  It may be hard to believe but the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), the civil rights legislation that has allowed for a greater involvement of people with disabilities in the workplace without fear of discrimination, was only passed in 1990.  In comparison, the Civil Rights Act, which blocked discrimination due to issues such as race, gender, and religion, was passed in 1964.

Fifth, we are much more able to diagnose and treat brain injuries than in the past.  Technology such as MRI and CT exams to scan the brain and locate injuries are relatively new.  Moreover until fairly recently many people, even health professionals, did not even know the right questions to ask to identify a potential brain injury.  For instance, if a high school athlete is concussed in a game today, the coach and athletic trainer often have a protocol to follow to ensure proper health management.  Twenty years ago, the player would likely have been just given smelling salts, asked if he or she felt “okay” and sent back into the game.  In fact, many states now have mandatory concussion training for coaches and athletic trainers.  This was unheard of just a few years ago.  In the past, people with brain injuries were forced to suffer in the silence of unrecognized deficits.  Now, these brain injuries and their concomitant deficits are more likely to be accurately diagnosed.

Overall, there are many rational reasons why we are “suddenly” hearing about brain injuries in the media, despite these injuries having been an issue in the past.

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