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Relearning the Activities of Daily Living After Traumatic Brain Injury: The Key to Independence

senior woman drying dishes and relearning the activities of daily living after TBI

After a traumatic brain injury, one of the main goals of recovery is to restore a person’s ability to live on their own.

To accomplish this, occupational therapists will focus on helping their TBI patients practice activities of daily living.

In today’s article, we’ll discuss what these activities of daily living are, and what you can do to relearn them and recover your independence.

Activities of Daily Living After Traumatic Brain Injury

Activities of daily living (ADLs) are the foundational skills a person needs in order to survive as an independent adult.

The following are five main daily living skills that many severe TBI patients must relearn after their accident:

  • Eating. This skill involves everything from the ability to swallow to using a fork to pick the food off your plate.
  • Personal hygiene. This activity requires enough strength to walk unassisted into the shower or bathtub. The patient must also be able to wash and groom independently.
  • Dressing. For this skill, the person must not only be able to put their clothes on without assistance, they must also have the cognitive presence to choose their outfit.
  • Continence. This skill requires the person to hold their bladder and reach a toilet before they release it.
  • Transferring and Walking. The person must have the strength to transfer out of their bed and move from different rooms of the house to get what they need.

As you can see, these activities involve both cognitive and physical abilities. Therefore, to regain them, you will need to exercise both your brain and body.

However, while these activities are crucial, they are not the only skills required to live independently.

That’s why occupational therapists created another set of ADLs for patients to practice, called the Instrumental Activities of Daily Living.

Instrumental Activities of Daily Living

woman paying cashier an instrumental activity of daily living

©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

Even if a person can eat and get dressed on their own, they might still need assistance from others.

The Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) are what allow a person to live a fully independent life. They are mostly higher cognitive skills that use complex thinking and organization.

Some of the IADLs include:

  • Housekeeping. This skill refers to the ability to manage a house, including doing laundry, taking out the garbage, and other chores.
  • Finances. This requires a person to understand the concept of money, pay bills on time, and keep their spending under control.
  • Shopping and meal prep. Not only must a person feed themselves, they must also plan their meals, find the right ingredients, and combine those ingredients into a meal in order to live on their own.
  • Medication management. Another crucial skill is the ability to take meds on time. This also involves taking the right dosages and getting prescriptions filled.

These activities can be hard to relearn, especially if the brain injury damaged your frontal lobe and caused executive dysfunction.

However, with the right therapy, it’s possible to regain at least some independent living skills.

How to Recover ADL Skills

senior man walking outdoor path with nurse, learning how to recover activities of daily living after brain injury

Recovering your daily living skills will involve a lot of training. Below are some ways you can start improving your abilities.

1. Physical Therapy

Most of the core ADLs demand a lot of physical strength and coordination. Therefore, to get better at ADLs, you’ll need to work on your improving your movement.

The best way to do this is to take part in regular physical therapy. PT exercises can help you increase everything from your arm strength to your balance and walking skills. All of this will enable you to live independently.

To make the most out of your therapy, make sure you continue to exercise even when you are at home. Repetition is the best way to activate neuroplasticity, your brain’s natural healing mechanism.

It can sometimes be hard to find the motivation to do therapy every day though. Fortunately, there are home therapy devices, such as FitMi, that can guide you through your exercises in a fun and engaging manner.

Bonus: Download our free TBI Rehab Exercises ebook. (Link will open a pop-up that will not interrupt your reading.)

2. Speech Therapy

Speech therapists assist a person with more than just speech impediments. They can be a valuable asset for helping you relearn activities of daily living after brain injury.

For example, if you struggle with dysphagia, a speech therapist can teach you swallowing exercises that will allow you to eat independently again.

Many therapists are also familiar with cognitive rehabilitation and can help you improve your ability to do complex tasks like the IADLs listed above.

As with physical therapy, it’s important to do speech and cognitive therapy exercises every day. Speech therapy apps like the CT Speech App, which has over 100,000 exercises, can help you with this.

3. Task-Specific Exercises

Probably the most effective method to recover independence is through task-specific training.

This type of training simply involves directly practicing a task or skill you want to improve. For example, if you want to get better at transferring from your bed to a chair, your training will focus on doing that exact motion.

Task-specificity is crucial because that is how the brain learns – or relearns – a skill.

Whenever you do an action, your brain forms new neural pathways in response. These pathways are reinforced the more you practice that action until, eventually, it becomes simple to perform.

That’s why the best way to get better at ADLs is to practice those activities.

Relearning Activities of Daily Living After Traumatic Brain Injury

The ability to perform the many activities of daily living is key to making a good recovery from brain injury.

While it will take a lot of time and effort, it’s possible to relearn those skills through physical therapy, speech therapy, and task-specific training.

With enough practice, these skills can become second-nature to you, and you will be one step closer to regaining your independence after TBI.  

Featured image: ©iStock.com/DGLimages

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More Ways to Recover with Flint Rehab:

Step 1: Download Free Rehab Exercises

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Step 2: Discover Award-Winning Neurorehab Tools

Step 3: See What Other Survivors Are Saying