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Make the most of your brain injury rehabilitation

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Make the most of your brain injury rehabilitation

The degree of recovery after a brain injury is strongly influenced by rehabilitation - here is how to make the most of your rehab. 

While the brain's limited ability to heal itself does taper off with time, there are many factors that can lead to improvements well beyond the finish of official rehabilitation. It may be a bad pun, but rehabilitation success is largely in our head. Here are some tips on how to maximize our recovery from a traumatic brain injury, stroke or other types of brain injury. 


Choosing a positive attitude

People react to a catastrophe in many ways. Some will groan and feel it confirms the world is unjust - others will smile and say 'what doesn't kill you can only make you stronger'. People who do the best in rehab usually will see negative situations as a time to grow and develop. 


"One person might return to work and social and leisure activities, while the other may end up on permanent disability" says Lynn M. Grattan of the Maryland School of Medicine. "Our research is the first to demonstrate that in many cases, personality has a greater influence than the brain injury itself."


Many families use humour to sustain them through difficult times. There is nothing funny about a brain injury, but finding reasons to smile each day is a factor in health and staying positive. Research shows that our attitudes and beliefs have a strong influence on the body's ability to heal itself. 



People with a brain injury often say rehabilitation is the biggest challenge of their lives. While life may never return to 'normal', how far you go in recovery depends on how much you put in. It is important to not overdo things as fatigue easily sets in, but a steady consistent approach to rehab makes a big difference in the long run. 


Why did this happen?

For many, it is important to work through the grief and shock of 'why' a brain injury has changed their lives so dramatically. It is common to feel bitter, resentful, or as if it is punishment. In some cases, finding a 'reason' for the brain injury can help during rehab e.g. a person may never work again  but discovers greater happiness in volunteer work that is helping others. Others become involved in brain injury support groups, online forums and writing stories about life with a brain injury - they make sense of their injury by saying they can now help others in the same situation. 


Structure & routine

We all need structure in our lives, such as when to eat, rest, sleep and work. After a brain injury, this need for structure and routine is extremely important - it allows the brain to rest and save its energy for rehabilitation.


Boredom and depression can set in easily, so set up a weekly timetable for meal times, rest periods, rehabilitation tasks and exercise. Have this information on a big poster or whiteboard, and provide gentle memory prompts and encouragement if memory or movitation problems exist. It is very important not to overdo things so make sure quiet rest periods are part of your schedule when needed. 


Diet, exercise & sleep

Diet, exercise and sleep are very important during recovery, and should be built into each week's routine. Ensure your diet is healthy and you eat at the same times each day. 


Regular exercise is good for your health and maintaining a positive attitude. Schedule suitable activities into your weekly routine. If necessary check with your rehab team or doctor on suitable exercise. 


Good sleep and regular rest periods are vital for not overtaxing your brain and spending several days feeling very tired afterwards. Go to bed at the same time each night, and don't have tea or coffee late in the day. While a short nap in the early afternoon can be good for your health, too much sleep in the middle of the day will usually disturb a good night's sleep. 


Family involvement

A common key to sucessful rehabilitation is when the family gets involved. A good rehab team should know the importance of this as the family continues the 'rehabilitation' once the official period is over, so meet with the specialists, ask questions, and learn all you can while your family member is in a structured setting. If behavioural problems emerge, ask for a plan the family can use at home to respond appropriately. 


Make sure you are provided with a realistic discharge plan. Once home, establish a routine, consistently apply the discharge plan, and make sure your family member has control over aspects of their life they can safely manage.


Challenging behaviours

Once the formal rehabilitation is finished and a person returns home, sometimes there are behavioural issues that emerge that weren't present during rehab. It is important for the family to identify the issues as early as possible, and create a positive behaviour support plan for the whole family to apply consistently. See our fact sheets about challenging behaviour, and contact your Brain Injury Association for information and behavioural specialists in your area. 


Support groups

Support groups can play a vital role - not only for the person with a brain injury but their carers and family members. It is a chance to identify with others with similar problems, feel understood, and discuss solutions to problems. In remote areas, many find that online support groups on the Internet are very useful. 


Maintain friendships

Make time to stay in touch with friends and work this into your schedule. This can be difficult as meeting a friend for coffee can be exhausting during the recovery phase. Look at options such as a quick phone call or sending an email. Where appropriate, let friends know the support you need e.g. give you time to answer, understanding you will tire quickly. 


Reduce the chances of another brain injury

One brain injury makes you much more susceptible to further ones, so an important part of rehab it minimizing the chances of a second brain injury. Rehab specialists will usually recommend a person does not drink alcohol for at least a year after a brain injury, and often say it's best to permanently give up drinking.


For the elderly, make sure there are minimal chances of falling and tripping around the house. For children, always ensure they wear helmets for risky activities such as cycling. See our brain injury prevention fact sheet. 


Whatever works for you

Some people manage catastrophic events well, surviving with much less effect than others - the key to an excellent recovery from a traumatic brain injury will often be due to all of these areas we have covered. 


As Ronald E. Osborn said, "Undertake something that is difficult; it will do you good. Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you never grow."



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