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Traumatic Brain Injury And Occupational Therapy

Injuries, accidents and traumatic events are a part of life; however, any significant injury to vital organs may compromise the quality of life. Traumatic injuries involving the brain or spinal cord may lead to inevitable damage to vital functions and interfere with normal daily activities. A long term result of such traumatic incidents is the limitation of activities that may put extra strain on the brain or associated structures.

The management of traumatic brain injuries involves acute treatment to minimize the risk of acute complications, prolong recovery phase to hasten recovery and healing, and occupational therapy to reduce the risk of any future injury to brain that may lead to catastrophic events and to help in stabilizing the patients to live their life independently.

More than 5 million Americans develop moderate to significant disability after traumatic brain injuries each year. Although mild trauma to head or neck region is associated with an overall good prognosis, most moderate injuries may affect balance, speech, vision, memory and/or cause headaches or blackouts.

These long term complications may interfere with a lot of occupational activities that may also endanger the life of people around these patients at work. The aim of occupational therapy is to help in maximum restoration of normal daily activities with the help of physical therapy exercises, speech therapy and special recovery programs that help these patients to maintain their financial stability.

Occupational therapists work in close association with physical therapists and speech therapists to improve the overall quality of life of the victims of TBI. Occupational therapists assist patients in vestibular problems. Vestibular problem refers to an inability to maintain balance, dizziness or vertigo episodes and frequent fall due to loss of muscle control or balance issues. Almost 65% TBI patients develop vestibular issues that are addressed by occupational therapists by exercises that help in stabilization of neck posture to minimize the vertigo episodes. Occupational therapists guide patients about activities and movements that can trigger a vertigo attack and how to control it, maintenance of posture and stabilization of trunk to prevent falls, and avoidance of settings where an acute attack of vertigo may prove life threatening (heights, pool, driving etc).

Traumatic brain injuries that also involve the face may lead to long term speech problems. It is absolutely necessary to start occupational therapy during the recovery phase to prevent emotional and psychological issues like mood disorders and depression. Occupational therapists work with speech therapist to improve stuttering and articulation issues, stress management, and processing of words and improving vocabulary.

Language and speech issues especially those that involve issues in word processing and construction of sentences for proper expression can partly be sequelae of cognitive defects or loss of memory as a result of TBI. Occupational therapist works to improve memory functioning and cognition by video games and devices that helps in improving higher mental functioning of brain.

Traumatic brain injury involving the hind brain may affect vision or sight. Some people experience mild visual loss, but others may develop permanent photosensitivity, irritation, tearing of eyes and other qualitative malfunctions like visual tracking abilities or weakness of eye muscles. The occupational therapist helps improve visual quality using corrective glasses and visual aids and improves tracking abilities by visual-spatial computer games and software.

Apart from targeting specific abnormalities produced as a result of traumatic brain injury, occupational therapists also guide patients about the occupational activities that may be hazardous for them like heavy weight lifting, contact sports and excessive driving. Moreover, therapists also help in modifying home and workplace setting to minimize the risk of trauma to patient, teaching or guiding simple meaningful activities like bathing, dressing and cooking independently, and neuromuscular re-education, improvement of cognitive skills and memory.