When someone has suffered a brain or nervous system injury, or an illness that impacts neurological function, one of the first things they wonder about is how things are ever going to go back to normal. They may immediately assume that the outlook is grim. If this sounds like you or a loved one and you’re looking for answers about what neurological rehabilitation is, why it’s so beneficial, and how to go about it, we can help.
The brain is an incredibly crucial part of our body, as it controls all our systems, so it’s only natural for patients to experience some form of defeat or devastation when they face a neurological problem. And while it is realistic for it to affect your life in some way, the latest advances in medicine, science, and technology have dramatically increased the chances of a full recovery.
So although you are undoubtedly going through a hard time, medical advances allow you to plan for the best outcome optimistically. As long as you’re willing to work alongside your team of health care providers, there’s no reason you cannot return to a normal life. It might not be easy, but as they say, the best things in life are worth fighting for. Like virtually any other part of your body, the brain can—and should—be worked out, especially after a significant injury or illness.
When a bodybuilder does exercises for their muscles, they are putting strain on them in order to, ultimately, make them stronger. Similarly, when someone badly sprains their ankle or has knee surgery to repair their meniscus, they go through rehabilitation that utilizes equipment and various moves at a physical therapy facility so they can regain strength and get better. So while it may seem difficult at first, if you make a plan and go at it slowly but steadily, you are sure to see improvement in a shorter time than you may think.
You just need the right tools and techniques to propel you along this journey to a healthier you. Read on to find out how you can approach neurological rehabilitation for optimal results and prevent your illness or injury from taking over your life. If you’re prepared for a little challenge, you can learn to take charge of it, rather than letting it take control of you.
What Is Neurological Rehabilitation?
Neurological rehabilitation is a program designed to help reduce symptoms, improve function, and elevate the quality of life and overall well-being of someone affected by one of the below conditions.
Which Conditions Does Neurological Rehabilitation Help Treat?
The main, most common injuries and illnesses being treated today by neurological rehabilitation are the following:
- Stroke, subdural hematoma, or TIAs (transient ischemic attacks)
- Meningitis, polio, encephalitis, or a brain abscess
- Brain or spinal cord trauma
- Spinal cord or brain tumor, muscular dystrophy, peripheral neuropathy, or Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Seizure disorder, neuralgia, or chronic dizziness
- Parkinson’s disease, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), multiple sclerosis (MS), or Alzheimer’s disease
And the list goes on. If you are currently going through or have recently experienced another vascular disorder, serious infection, trauma, structural or neuromuscular disorder, functional disorder, or degenerative disorder, you may benefit from this type of rehab therapy.
Now that you’ve gotten a sense of how powerful this treatment is by the vast number of conditions it can help, let’s dive deeper into how neurological rehabilitation might look.
What Does a Neurological Rehabilitation Program Include?
When embarking on a neurological rehabilitation program, you will be assigned a comprehensive care team and several daily activities to complete your regimen. Your team could include a neurologist, an orthopedist, an internist, rehabilitation specialists, a registered dietitian, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a speech/language professional, a social worker, a case manager, an audiologist, a vocational counselor, and more.
The program is built for your specific needs. This means your care team will continually supervise your progress and lay out a plan of action that makes sense for you.
Some examples of these strategies include setting you up with a combination of assistance with day-to-day activities; speech therapy for retraining of reading, speaking, writing, or swallowing; management of anxiety, stress, or depression; retraining of normal bladder and bowel movement; and exercises for mobility improvement, gait, balance, range of motion, posture, strength, and muscle control.
There may also be elements of spasticity and pain management; retraining of social and behavioral skills; nutritional and vocational counseling; emotional support and the opportunity for involvement in community support groups; activities that aim to improve cognitive impairments with concentration, memory, attention, or poor judgment; and help in obtaining empowering assistive devices that facilitate independence.
What Types of Neurological Rehabilitation Are Available?
There are a few different kinds of neurological rehabilitation to consider. Your care team will help guide you to the best fit for your condition so you can make an informed decision. It’s a good idea to get a sense of what to expect so you go into the process prepared and without too much apprehension.
The Three “Acutes” of Neurological Rehabilitation
This treatment is done as early as possible during the recovery process and generally provided in a special unit of a trauma hospital, at a rehabilitation hospital, or in another inpatient type of setting. When going through acute treatment, patients have a team of experienced health professionals working with them to help regain activities necessary for daily life. These include tasks such as getting dressed, feeding yourself, using the bathroom on your own, walking around, and speaking.
Once the patient is well enough to take part in a more intense level of therapy, a transfer to a post-acute rehabilitation—for instance, to a transitional rehab facility setting—can occur. These clinical settings are also sometimes referred to as transitional living or residential rehabilitation facilities.
There, the patient will participate in exercises designed to help the bodily systems regain independence again. One session could be up to six hours. This may sound like a lot, but keep in mind the goal here: to get the patient’s life back on track as quickly as can be tolerated.
This type of care is offered when the patient cannot fully tolerate the more intensive therapies of post-acute neurological rehabilitation. Sub-acute treatment is an intermediary phase that will still help the patient progress, but a bit more slowly and gently. Sessions will get similar results, but simply take place over a longer period of time to prevent reinjury.
Sub-acute treatments are sometimes provided in a nursing home setting, but patients can also be sent to a sub-acute rehabilitation facility if they aren’t making functional gains as quickly as originally anticipated. In this stage, it is important to stay optimistic because there is nothing wrong with ending up here—it still requires the work and patience of the other types of rehab treatment.
Don’t stop, stick with it, and hit your goals—slow but steady. Stay committed. Is it perfectly normal for everyone experiencing a similar illness or injury to be at a different place in their journey, so don’t compare yourself to others. Some patients will have a faster natural healing time.
Day Treatment for Neurological Rehabilitation
This treatment type will typically take place at a rehab center or in a hospital setting. It is a structured group environment that allows the impacted patient to go home at the end of each day, instead of staying overnight at the facility.
Outpatient Therapy for Neurological Rehabilitation
This type of rehabilitation does not require overnights either. At this point, the patient is fairly healed and strong enough to be home for the majority of the time. If patients want to get stronger, they may choose to continue this therapy on their own time. There is generally a bit more flexibility with this rehab treatment, as it tends to take place after the various “acutes” we discussed and focuses on enhancing—and sometimes, just maintaining—the progress they’ve made during their recovery process.
What Are the Best Exercises for Neurological Rehabilitation?
There are a plethora of things you can do as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation approach to get as close as possible to your desired results. While you will always want to follow the advice recommended by your team of medical professionals, the tips found in this article can supplement your prescribed treatments for a holistic care plan.
Make Repetition Your Friend: Play Games and Set Reminders
This Is No Time for Games—Or Is It? Actually, Play Away!
Games that stimulate your brain are great additions to your care plan, as they enhance your memory. You can try your hand at anything from chess to checkers to card games and even apps on your smartphone. Because these games encourage more complex thought processes, they work out your brain in a way that is fun and entertaining. Memory games and strategy games improve cognitive functions—such as attention, reasoning, processing speed, concentration, and more.
Get Back Into the Swing of Things: Set Up a Routine
Form a routine with the help of reminders—but only at first. These will merely be your training wheels, so to speak, until you get back into the groove of things and regain a level of cognitive function you are happy with. Then, gradually remove the post-its, phone alarms, mnemonics, and rhymes that you have set up to help you. This way, you won’t have to lean so heavily on many outside sources other than yourself. A solid routine will make your brain grow stronger, like any traditional workout. For a while, make repetition your best friend.
Turn to More Traditional Health and Wellness: Let’s Talk Nutrition and Fitness
Nutrition: Eat the Best Brain Foods
There’s no better time to adopt healthier habits—such as taking advantage of fitness and eating a brain-healthy diet—than when recovering from a major illness or injury like yours. The vagus nerve connects the brain to the gut, so nutrition is a big part of feeling your best when recovering from a neurological injury or illness. Focus on foods like fruits, veggies, and fish packed with omega-3 fatty acids. Try eating more frequently, too—your cognitive functioning decreases without fuel, so it’s crucial that you feed your brain well and often!
Fitness: Move for Your Mental Health
The right moves during neurological rehabilitation can also help with balance, boost attention, improve conflict resolution skills, and enhance memory abilities. Remember, the more movement, the better. Technology can help you do the right exercises and, ultimately, become more independent. As you learned, boosting your activity level is crucial.
As far as actual exercise goes, aim for regular aerobics and cardiovascular activity—like working on your walking and upper arm strength training. It will get you out of bed, get the blood pumping, improve range of motion and nerve and muscle function, and relieve stress (which is important for brain health).
Make sure you’re not just sitting around letting your health deteriorate, as it could potentially cause harm (such as a second stroke later on). Think of the term “neuroplasticity.” It is the mechanism that the brain uses in order to heal and rewire itself, forming new neural connections and pathways with affected areas after illness or injury. It allows the brain to recover lost skills—the more you engage neuroplasticity, the more your mobility is bound to improve.
Keep in mind that if you’re experiencing some paralysis due to your condition, you may need to start with more passive exercises. Your team of health care providers can help you figure out the best exercise regimen for your healing. The following exercise moves can help get you started. You may even find yourself doing these at your rehabilitation facility with your physical therapist:
- Seated moves like seated marching, leg extensions or raises, knee-to-chest or knee raises, hip abduction, upper back with a band, toe taps or raises, and heel raises
- Ankle dorsiflexion, which can be especially beneficial when you use a resistance band
- Moves where you can lay straight across the floor like trunk/lying rotation twists and weight-bearing lean
- Tabletop moves like tabletop circle movement, lateral or forward pushing movement, or open arm movement
- Bicep curls, adding weight as you recover
- And plenty of stretching! Yoga will be a great addition to your recovery workout
Aim for about 20 reps each, and work up to them rather than jumping in all at once so you don’t injure yourself—it should be gradual. Slowly but surely, you should feel yourself turning back into YOU.
How You Can Get Started With Neurological Rehabilitation
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why people utilize neurological rehabilitation—and several tools, methods, and professionals to help you take part in this valuable treatment. Creating a holistic care plan with your doctors will enable you to achieve your wellness goals.
While the road to recovery after an injury or slowing the progression of an illness may be a challenge, it’s often the challenges in life that yield the greatest outcomes. Think of your condition as a test—you just have to get stronger to overcome it so that it doesn’t hold you down or back.
No matter what you’re facing, you can be closer to you again if you create a smart strategy and stick to it. It just requires effort and the technology to power the journey. With the right assistive devices, we can help you enhance your life through neurological rehabilitation. Discover your best options in our blog article, “Where Can I Find Assistive Technology Devices?”