A brain injury is categorized as either traumatic or nontraumatic.

A traumatic brain injury happens when the brain is damaged by an outside force. Most patients we see in rehabilitation have experienced a traumatic brain injury due to a motor vehicle accident, falling or from a sports injury.

A nontraumatic brain injury often is referred to as an acquired brain injury. This type of injury happens due to a condition affecting the inside of the brain. It could be caused by a tumor or the brain experiencing a lack of oxygen.

Rehab plays a vital role in helping people with both types of brain injuries — traumatic and nontraumatic — return to the highest level of independence.

Depending on the extent of the brain injury, the person might require hospitalization. It’s important to start therapy as soon as possible to assess and begin treatment for problem areas. Many times, patients require intensive inpatient therapy provided by an inpatient rehabilitation program. Patients receive three hours of therapy per day, usually consisting of physical therapy, occupational and speech therapy.

It’s possible patients might need further therapy once discharged from the hospital. Patients often will continue therapy on an outpatient basis. Outpatient therapy will continue to work on problem areas. It helps get the patient back to performing everyday tasks at home, work and school as independently as possible.

What type of therapy is needed depends on the limitations the patient has resulting from the traumatic brain injury. For example, if a patient is having difficulty with balance and walking, he or she will most likely need physical therapy.

Occupational therapy focuses on patients who have problems trying to perform daily living activities, such as feeding, bathing and dressing themselves. Occupational therapy also addresses the person’s ability to carry out home-management activities such as performing cooking and cleaning tasks, as well as managing finances.

Speech therapy addresses deficits such as problems with memory, reasoning and problem solving.

There are several keys to make brain injury rehabilitation successful.

The first element is the patient. The patient needs to be motivated and engaged in therapy. How quickly a patient progresses in therapy is related to the patient’s willingness to participate.

A second important piece is family support. Support from others can be crucial in the success of the rehab process. It can include providing encouragement for the patient during therapy sessions in the clinic, as well as at home while performing a home exercise program.

The third component to make the rehab process effective is using a team approach. In addition to the patient and family member/support system, the rehab team consists of a variety of professionals. These individuals might include (but not be limited to) the physician, nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, case manager, psychologist/neuropsychologist and others.

The rehab process also might require consultation with additional professionals to assist with getting needed equipment or resources at home or in the community.

This team plays an essential role in helping a patient return to performing daily activities as independently as possible.

Roxie Smallwood is the director of rehabilitation services for MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center. She holds a master’s degree in health administration and is a registered occupational therapist by the national occupational therapist credentialing board. For more information about rehabilitation services, call 843-661-4360 or visit MUSChealth.org/florence.

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