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Occupational Therapy and Brain Injury: How It Benefits Your Independence

occupational therapist helping smiling senior woman with brain injury finish a jigsaw puzzle

Occupational therapists are one of the most important specialists you can work with during brain injury rehabilitation.

You’re about to learn the major benefits of participating in occupational therapy for brain injury recovery. Let’s get started!   

Occupational Therapy and Brain Injury

The goal of occupational therapy is to help the patient regain functional independent living skills.

While physical therapists mainly focus on teaching a person how to rebuild their physical strength after an injury, occupational therapists take a more holistic approach. They look at what skills the patient needs to live independently and invent creative ways to help the person accomplish that goal.

This makes occupational therapy a practical and effective treatment for brain injury. During an OT session, you will practice many important activities that will directly improve your independence.

Here are some areas that an occupational therapist can help you with:

  • Self-care
  • Home management
  • Recreation
  • Social skills
  • Cognitive functioning

To help you regain these skills, an occupational therapist will teach you both restorative and compensatory strategies.

Restorative vs Compensatory Tactics

Restorative techniques help you relearn how to perform an activity the way you did before your brain injury.

Compensatory tactics, on the other hand, help you find a new way of doing something if it’s not yet possible for you to do it the correct way.

A good example of a compensatory tactic is a crutch. Crutches help you move around when your legs cannot support your weight. But eventually, you will need to remove the crutches and begin walking without them. Otherwise, if you rely for too long on the crutch, you might lose the ability to walk on your own.

This is why occupational therapists prefer to teach their patients restorative techniques when possible. It lets the person regain the ability completely, without any risk of losing it in the future.

Benefits of Occupational Therapy for Brain Injury

Occupational therapy can offer many practical benefits to brain injury patients that other therapies cannot.

Most occupational therapists prefer to work in real-life settings with their patients such as the person’s home, bank, mall or any other place where the person needs to practice skills to regain competence and become independent.

Below are some skills that occupational therapists most commonly address.      

1. Coping Skills

woman staying calm at work, using the coping skills she learned in occupational therapy after brain injury

©iStock/fizkes

Some of the most difficult side effects of brain injury to overcome are the emotional and behavioral problems that accompany frontal lobe damage.

These issues make it hard for TBI survivors to handle frustration and disappointment in a healthy manner, which unfortunately can negatively impact their relationships and even prevent them from finding and keeping a job.

The good news is occupational therapy addresses these problems and teaches brain injury patients effective coping methods. In fact, many occupational therapists are trained in cognitive-behavioral therapy and can help the person and their family members learn how to handle emotional outbursts before they escalate.

This training is crucial for enabling TBI patients to successfully reintegrate back into their community after injury.

2. Independent Living Skills

Another area that occupational therapists address is independent living skills, also known as activities of daily living (ADLs).

There are two categories of ADLs that OTs will focus on: basic activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living.

The basic ADLs encompass all the essential activities a person needs to perform in order to survive. These include:

  • Eating
  • Hygiene
  • Dressing
  • Continence
  • Transferring

The instrumental ADLs involve higher cognitive processes. They allow a person to be completely independent. Some examples of IADLs are:

  • Finances
  • Housekeeping
  • Meal prep
  • Medication management

Occupational therapists help the person practice these skills directly and hopefully regain them. If it’s not possible to fully regain the skill, the therapist will brainstorm ways to adapt it to the person’s ability.

3. Memory Skills

man holding notebook and pen, smiling because he remembered something

Memory is another ability that is severely impacted by traumatic brain injury. But without the ability to remember important information, such as when to take medication or how long to leave the stove on, it’s impossible for the person to safely live on their own.   

To address this problem, occupational therapists teach patients different exercises that improve short-term memory.

For example, practitioners might have the person look at a picture for a few seconds and then draw what they remember. The more the person exercises their memory, the better their recall skills become.

Therapists will also show patients compensatory tactics such as daily planners, checklists, and other tricks that help people remember. While these techniques won’t help the person regain their memory, it will help them function more efficiently until they can improve their skills.

4. Cognitive Skills

Besides memory, occupational therapists can also help you improve several other cognitive skills.

By using cognitive rehabilitation exercises, patients can boost skills such as:

  • Attention
  • Visual perception
  • Problem-solving
  • Executive function

These skills are crucial for helping the person live independently, which is why a significant part of occupational therapy is devoted to improving them.

Most occupational therapists are familiar with exercises that address these issues. They can also work with your neuropsychologist to create a program that best fits your needs.

5. Social Skills

woman smiling with her coworkers, raising glasses to make a toast, using social skills she learned from occupational therapy after brain injury

©iStock/monkeybusinessimages

Finally, occupational therapists can teach TBI patients important social skills that might have been lost after their injury, such as:

  • How to begin and end a conversation
  • How to react to good or bad news
  • Letting the other person finish their sentences
  • Non-verbal communication

Therapy either takes place in a group setting or one-on-one. Patients are taught how to react to certain social situations and are given the opportunity to practice interactions in a safe environment.

Traumatic Brain Injury and Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists are experts at identifying what skills a patient needs to relearn to live independently. They are out-of-the-box thinkers who can come up with creative ways to help the patient regain abilities and improve their quality of life.

Therefore, if you want to reach your maximum level of independence after brain injury, make sure you include occupational therapy into your TBI recovery plan.

©iStock/LightFieldStudios

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