Brain injury recovery is a long and challenging process. There will be weeks and even months when it feels like you aren’t making any progress, and it could be years before you regain most of your abilities.
However, there are ways to make sure that you reach your fullest recovery possible. In today’s article, we’ll show you how to recover from brain injury, and how to make the recovery process go smoothly.
Even if it feels like nothing is changing, it’s important to persevere with these strategies in order to prevent yourself from losing the gains you have made.
How to Recover from Brain Injury
The best way to recover from brain injury is to activate your brain’s natural repair mechanism, neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity refers to the process in which your brain rewires itself to allow healthy brain regions to take over functions controlled by damaged ones.
You activate neuroplasticity through massed practice exercises (i.e. doing lots of repetition).
The more you practice certain exercises, the more your brain reinforces new neural pathways in response. That’s why an action gets easier as you practice it.
It’s also why continued therapy is so crucial for brain injury recovery. Because if you don’t keep activating neuroplasticity, those neural pathways will degrade, and you will lose function. It turns out the old saying, “use it or lose it” is true.
So that’s some general advice on how to recover from brain injury. Now it’s time to dig into the specifics.
The following are the seven steps you should take to ensure your brain injury recovery journey is a success.
Step 1. Participate in Physical and Occupational Therapy
Perhaps the best way to kick-start your TBI recovery is to take part in physical and occupational therapy.
Physical therapy works to rebuild physical strength, coordination, and flexibility after TBI.
Not only that, but it also increases blood flow to your brain, giving your brain the nutrients it needs to function and heal.
Occupational therapy, on the other hand, helps a person relearn how to perform activities of daily living such as getting dressed, cooking, or bathing. An occupational therapist also works with you to recover cognitive skills necessary to live independently.
Both PT and OT utilize massed practice to activate neuroplasticity, which makes them an integral part of any brain injury recovery program.
Step 2. Do Home Therapy Programs
Unfortunately, going to therapy appointments only once or twice a week will not get you very many results.
Instead, you need to make sure you practice the exercises you learn at therapy every day . You can have your therapist write you a home exercise sheet to help you remember exactly how to do them.
There are also home therapy devices, such as FitMi, which walk you through exercises in a fun and engaging way. Many patients find that these devices help them stay motivated in a way that hand-out sheets do not.
Practicing your exercises at home every day will keep your brain stimulated which will help you recover from brain injury much faster.
Step 3. Try Speech Therapy
If your traumatic brain injury caused aphasia or any other TBI communication disorders, begin speech therapy right away. The sooner you get treatment, the less likely it is that those disorders will last permanently.
A speech therapist can walk you through the many TBI speech therapy activities available, and show you exactly what you need to do to retrain your brain and regain language skills.
Even if you have no noticeable speech impediments, speech therapy can also help you with the more delicate aspects of communication that you might struggle with after a TBI. For example, you might need to relearn how to match your voice pitch and volume with others, which a therapist can teach you.
Speech therapists are also trained in the cognitive side of communication, which most TBI survivors struggle with. Since conversation skills involve the ability to listen, pay attention, and respond appropriately, speech therapy addresses that with cognitive exercises.
All of this makes speech therapy a vital part of brain injury recovery.
Just like with physical therapy however, if you want to see the most results, you will need to practice at home. Fortunately, there are mobile apps, such as the CT Cognitive Therapy App, that help you do just that.
Step 4. Address Emotional Changes
This is an often overlooked aspect of TBI recovery, but it is no less crucial than addressing the cognitive and physical effects of brain injury.
Brain injury causes many emotional and behavioral changes, including depression and increased aggression.
While these can be tough to treat, psychotherapy can help you find productive ways to manage them. In particular, cognitive-behavioral therapy is very effective at helping TBI survivors overcome negative, implicit beliefs that may be causing their issues.
Even though behavioral changes can be frightening at times for loved ones to witness, it’s important to remember that the person is not entirely in control of their actions. Damage to the frontal lobe can reduce a person’s inhibitions, making them act on every impulse they might have.
Fortunately, a good neuropsychologist can help patients regain control over their impulses.
Step 5. Focus on Restorative Techniques
Neuroplasticity helps your brain repair itself, but it also has a downside you’ll need to watch out for during recovery. Neuroscientists call it maladaptive plasticity.
As we said above, if you want to help your brain relearn an activity, you’re going to have to do a lot of exercises. This reinforces neural pathways and helps you regain function.
Unfortunately, sometimes you can teach your brain to do an action the wrong way.
For example, if you can’t move your right hand to pick up a cup, you might start using your left hand instead. Therapists call this a compensatory tactic, and they are sometimes necessary, especially in the early days of recovery.
However, if you continue to use them, eventually your brain will “forget” how to do the action the right way, and you risk losing the ability entirely.
To avoid this, you’ll want to focus on using restorative techniques. This just means restoring the ability to perform an action the way you used to before your injury.
So, if your right hand is weak, try to resist the urge to do everything with your left hand. Keep using your right hand and eventually, it will get stronger.
Step 6. Push Through Recovery “Plateaus”
Unfortunately, recovery from brain injury is not always a smooth or straightforward journey.
You will notice that, in the first few months after injury, you will make incredible progress. It might even seem like every week you gain back a new ability. This is because your brain enters a heightened state of plasticity immediately after an injury. That means your exercises will be extra effective.
Unfortunately, this state doesn’t last. After a few months, things will slow down. There will most likely be extended stretches of time where you make no progress.
Do not give up! Plateaus are frustrating, but they are also temporary.
In fact, they are a normal part of the recovery process. Eventually, with continued therapy, you will begin to see improvements again.
If the plateau is really discouraging you, one helpful technique to help you push through is to focus on a new area or activity.
For example, if you’ve been focusing on trying to improve your arm strength and you haven’t noticed any gains in a while, switch to your legs.
This can give you just the boost of motivation you need to keep up with your therapy.
Step 7. Stay Positive
This last step could also be the first, since it is equally as important as therapy.
Essentially, if you want to know how to recover from brain injury, you need to avoid falling into the trap of negative thinking.
This doesn’t mean you can never feel discouraged or unhappy. Instead, what it does mean is to try not to give in to despair and assume it’s impossible to make a good recovery.
These thoughts lead to limiting beliefs that worm their way deep into your subconscious and keep you from reaching your full potential.
The worst part about limiting beliefs is how they lead to self-fulfilling prophecies of failure.
For example, if you have been told by your doctor that you will never walk again, this might cause you to think it is useless to continue with therapy. As a result, you stop exercising, you lose more strength, and you stop seeing results.
That’s why as cliché as it might sound, the best thing you can do to maximize your brain injury recovery is to tune out the negativity, and believe you will make a full recovery.
This is because a positive belief has the exact opposite effect on the subconscious mind as limiting beliefs do. They give you the boost of motivation you need to continue with therapy and recover from brain injury.
Best Ways to Recover from Brain Injury
We hope these steps have given you a good picture of what you need to do to recover from brain injury.
But these seven steps are critical for finding success in brain injury rehabilitation. Think of them as the foundation to build your recovery program on.
If you stay on top of your therapy and keep activating neuroplasticity, you might surprise yourself by how much you recover.