Occupational therapy successfully provides quantifiable rehabilitation for traumatic brain injury patients. A well-respected treatment approach for the elderly, mentally ill, and disabled, occupational therapy can help those struggling with brain injuries to regain the normal rhythms of their pre-injury lives by re-educating them to carry out routine activities.
Occupational therapy is a discipline dedicated to promoting health and rehabilitation through the performance of activities. The therapist pinpoints, through research and evaluation of each specific patient, those areas which are meaningful to the patient, in keeping with his ethical beliefs and his customary way of life. By retraining the patient with occupational therapy once a traumatic injury has occurred, the therapist gives the patient the opportunity to feel that sense of accomplishment vital to his sense of well being.
An occupational therapist (OT) might be on hand to assist a patient who has had hip replacement surgery to re-learn how to put on socks or set a table. An OT can assist a patient who is losing her eyesight to learn how to reformat daily activities to accommodate the loss of vision. A large percentage of OTs work in schools helping special needs students learn how to be successful in the school environment.
A licensed occupational therapist must complete intensive studies in the field of Occupational Science and earn a Masters-level degree. Each therapist will tailor a treatment approach appropriate to the patient using a combination of the following therapy process components:
Research into patient history
Understanding of the patient's background
Identification of the patient's needs
Development of realistic goals for therapy
Creation of a plan for implementation
Ongoing assessment of efficacy
Ongoing revision to optimize efficacy
Completion of therapy
Many major hospitals and treatment centers throughout the world have occupational therapy clinics which focus on the rehabilitation of patients with conditions that respond favorably to OT. These include teaching hospitals affiliated with prominent universities such as UCLA and the University of Washington, and leaders in research and treatment such as Johns Hopkins.
The application of occupational therapy to the treatment of patients with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) is a relatively recent success story which has produced dramatic results. Brain injuries and their long-term consequences are often unpredictable and difficult to manage. The occupational therapist takes the time to evaluate each case on an individual basis and greatly increases the probability of a positive outcome by focusing on the patient, the action plan, and the revision of the plan for improved results.
Causes of traumatic brain injury are varied but often of sufficient severity to require occupational therapy. A blow to the head sustained during a traffic accident can have serious long-term implications. An impact which causes a skull fracture, resulting from a fall, a football tackle, a tumble from a horse, or a gunshot will injure the brain with varying degrees of severity, depending on factors such as the injury location. Any extreme acceleration and deceleration of the head which causes movement of the brain within the skull can damage the brain tissue and nerves. This type of brain injury, the cause of such conditions as Shaken Infant Syndrome, can be the result of physical violence.
At the outset of recovery, a patient and his OT may concentrate upon re-learning activities as basic as hand washing. They will progress to daily activities like bed making, grocery shopping, and cooking meals. Finally, well into the recovery period, the OT may focus on re-training her patient with cognitive exercises and memory-strengthening activities.
Because traumatic brain injury spans all ages of victims and has many causes and degrees of severity, the therapist's ability to tailor an occupational program on a case by case basis greatly increases the value of the treatment. The occupational therapist may begin work while the TBI patient is still comatose. At this stage of treatment, she may provide sensory and basic motor therapy to keep the patient engaged in routine activities, even while in a coma. When the patient begins to improve and is ready to embark on the slow upward climb of recovery, the OT is there beside him to ease him into relearning those skills lost or compromised by the brain injury.
Occupational therapy is the most successful in a situation where the patient takes an active interest in planning her therapy program in cooperation with the OT. The more a patient is vested in her therapy program, the more progress she will make. The ideal occupational therapy program is one in which an involved patient is dedicated to reaching self-defined goals.