Occupational therapy and brain injury awareness

Published 9:00 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2016

By Tonya S. Swindell

March was Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month. The American Occupational Therapy Association designated April as Occupational Therapy Month.

Since I assess and treat veterans with history of traumatic brain injury as a registered occupational therapist, it seems appropriate to describe the purpose, goals and benefits of OT for people who sustain brain injury.

Email newsletter signup

Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is an insult to the brain caused by an external force that impacts the head or neck. It is classified as mild, moderate or severe, depending on the extent of damage.

From my experience, people with history of mild traumatic brain injury recover well and require little or no rehabilitation to maintain a productive lifestyle. Anoxia, or lack of oxygen; cerebrovascular accident or stroke; seizures, tumors or many medical conditions may contribute to other types of brain injury.

The unique aim of occupational therapy is to assess, treat and train individuals to complete meaningful tasks as independently as possible. People with history of brain injury may benefit from skilled OT services to improve their ability to solve problems, learn how to organize tasks, be trained in use of adaptive devices and learn energy conservation techniques.

I provide skilled occupational therapy services for military veterans as a member of a polytrauma support clinical team. Other members of the team include a physiatrist, psychologist, neuropsychologist, nurse practitioner, rehabilitation nurse, social worker and speech and language pathologist. The purpose of our team is to assess veterans with history of TBI related to combat or deployment and provide recommendations for improved function.

It is very rewarding to assess and treat former military personnel who have borne the battle and seek to regain mental, physical and spiritual wholeness. Recently I collaborated with our team’s speech and language pathologist to help a veteran achieve a goal of preparing a meal. In the past, meal preparation was extremely challenging for the veteran due to cognitive, visual, safety and task organization deficits.

The focus of our therapeutic intervention was on training the veteran to use visual cues, such as lists, and verbal cues, such as “talking herself through” the activity, to compensate for memory deficits.

We also trained the veteran to maximize safety by using all her senses during the task. Our ultimate goal was to help develop a safe strategy for tasks that could be carried out at home.

Occupational therapy can help a person with brain injury feel capable, grateful and proud that he or she can perform meaningful and purposeful activities of daily living.

Since TBI, anoxic brain damage, CVA and injuries resulting from other medical conditions may decrease a person’s function, OT is a useful tool to promote increased independence and satisfaction with a sense of accomplishment.

April is a good month to shed light on the value of OT for people with history of brain injury and other medical conditions.

Tonya Swindell writes a blog for www.inspirenewlife.org and a teacher for Kingdom Building Equipping School (KBES.com). She can be reached at 1brightot@gmail.com.