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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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 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
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
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
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
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."