Physical Therapy after traumatic brain injury: what you need to know

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Traumatic Brain Injury and Physical Therapy

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) occurs when there is an injury to the head that results in interrupted brain function. For seniors, TBI results in over 80,000 emergency room visits each year in the US. 


There are many causes for TBI in seniors. The most common reasons for emergency room visits or other hospitalization for TBI are car crashes and falls. TBI can be devastating for older adults due to changes in the body as a result of normal aging. Chronic conditions and other illnesses can heighten the risk of TBI if there is a fall or other type of accident. 


Signs and symptoms of TBI


Your brain controls every function in your body. Therefore an injured brain shows a variety of symptoms that, at first glance, may or may not seem related. These include: 


  • Physical symptoms: difficulty moving the body in a relatively typical way
  • Cognitive symptoms: challenges remembering or thinking through everyday activities
  • Sensory symptoms: problems with any of your five senses: taste, sight, smell, touch, hearing. Balance issues might also occur. 
  • Emotional symptoms: difficulty showing emotion or being over-emotional, with no way to control the expression of your emotions


While some of these symptoms can be attributed to old age, some may pop up out of nowhere. If any of these symptoms occur suddenly, or you suspect traumatic brain injury, you mustn’t waste any time visiting an emergency room. 


When an older adult receives a TBI diagnosis


At the hospital, a doctor will give you a series of tests and examinations. An MRI may also be recommended to know for sure that TBI is the culprit. 


In-patient hospital care is common, so a stay might end up taking anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Depending on the severity of the injury, the patient may or may not be conscious when visiting the emergency room. Therefore, recovery might be even slower. 


Your physical therapist will work as part of your medical team to determine the best course of treatment as it relates to your injury. TBI can be incredibly tricky for physical therapists to treat, but there is hope. 


How physical therapy can help


A physical therapist can help patients in several ways. The course of treatment depends on the severity of the injury, as well as the consciousness of the individual receiving treatment. 


He or she may: 


  • ensure that the patient has the proper posture while lying in the hospital bed
  • adjust the patient to prevent bedsores or other problems
  • work with the individual to begin moving again and stimulating the body to react with physical responses
  • help the patient to sit up on their own
  • work with the patient on balance and standing again
  • practice balance and coordination exercises with the patient
  • improve mobility by implementing light physical fitness activities into treatment


And much more. They may even use cold or warm compresses and engage in activities that improve overall circulation. The ways that physical therapists help TBI patients are innumerable. 


Questions about traumatic brain injury? 


To lower the chances of TBI in your loved ones, be sure that you educate older adults about avoiding falls or other accidents that are likely to occur. If you suspect your loved one has suffered an injury, get to a hospital or call a doctor immediately. 


At the beginning of treatment, a physical therapist can work with you or your family to recommend the best course of action. The goal of physical therapy is to return (within reason) to the same quality of life enjoyed before the accident. 


Do you have any questions about physical therapy or rehabilitation? Contact us today.