I have said many times that I am so grateful for the amazing rehabilitation team that we had after Mark suffered a devastating stroke at the age of 46 years old. We were very blessed to be near an amazing rehabilitation hospital that specialized in brain injury and stroke recovery
Working in the healthcare industry for the last 16 years, I realize that is not the norm.
Did you know that one in every four patients who suffer a stroke will go home with no rehabilitation or follow-up after their hospitalization? That to me is stunning. It’s also why I am so passionate about getting as much information out as I can to empower both those who have suffered a stroke or brain injury and those who care for them.
Stroke recovery and brain injury resources can seem scarce, but they are not. You just need to know where to look.
Often, due to reasons beyond our control, we may be sent home from the hospital, or rehabilitation facility, or discharged from outpatient rehabilitation before we feel it’s time.
While this can be so devastating, it does not mean you or the person you are caring for needs to be done with the work to continue to improve function and cognition. There are brain exercises available to improve memory and assist in stroke recovery.
If we had stopped after Mark was discharged, he would still be in a wheelchair, incontinent, and unable to be left alone for any amount of time. We did things, every single day, to improve brain health for Mark!
That being said, let’s talk about some of the essential exercises you can do on your own to improve the function, healing, and restoration of the brain after a stroke or traumatic brain injury.
For those who have suffered a left-sided stroke or traumatic brain injury, there may be problems with speech. This can include speaking or understanding what others are saying.
This can be very frustrating for everyone involved because communication is difficult, but don’t lose hope! There are things you can do to improve this part of the brain:
- Word Search Puzzles
- Moving the tongue repeatedly in and out, up and down, side to side
- Practicing smiling and relaxing the face in the mirror
- Pursing (like a kiss) and relaxing the lips
There’s an APP for that
Available for Android or iPhone, this application on your phone or tablet allows you to get the help you need to improve your speech, information processing, and cognitive exercise, from the comfort of your own home on YOUR schedule.
Many individuals who suffer a stroke or TBI, find that loss of memory makes returning to their independence very difficult. Memory loss can be short-term, like remembering to take medications daily, or long-term, like where you grew up or a loved one’s birthday.
Just because this can be present after a stroke or brain injury, doesn’t mean it’s permanent or can’t be improved. Just like anything else, it takes time, patience, and some work.
Some things that will help to improve memory include things like:
Listening to music
Helps to bring back long-term memory and can decrease anxiety
This helps many individuals with information retention and processing
Physical activity has been shown to improve memory and cognitive function (McDonald MW, et al., 2019)
To this point, I would like to share a personal experience I had. When Mark was initially in the brain injury rehabilitation hospital, I had someone bring his iPod. I would put it in his ears and play his playlists (which primarily had Metallica and other favorites from his high school days) and play it for him in between rehabilitation sessions.
Before he ever spoke, knew who I was, sat up alone, even came off of the oxygen/trach, he would mouth the words to all of those old songs! Not only do I believe it helped rebuild those brain connections, but it also gave me the HOPE that I needed so desperately at the time.
Mindfulness, Meditation, and Yoga
While these things may seem somewhat non-conventional to many, there are studies that have shown these practices, along with traditional therapy, have a great impact on improved outcomes for those who have had a stroke or traumatic brain injury.
Has shown to increase self-awareness, confidence, and overall well-being for those who have suffered a stroke (Seeney, R, and Giffen, J. 2020)
It helps individuals to develop compassion for themselves, decreases stress, improving overall mental and physical health (Gray, LA, 2020)
This practice, even done for short periods daily, can improve memory and function
Attention Process Training
This type of training will help those who have had a brain injury, including those who have experienced a stroke, by zeroing in on the ability to focus and close out other distractions. This can be especially difficult after a brain injury due to the brain’s changes in processing information. (Barman, A, et al., 2016)
Let’s face it, in the current world we live in there are things grasping at our attention constantly! So even without a brain injury, it can be difficult to concentrate. Some things to try to improve concentration include:
Start with something small
Commit to reading one chapter in a book daily or reading just 5-7 minutes daily
Stick with this for at least 7 consecutive days
Gradually increase the time you will read each day
Use a timer
Work on something for a set number of minutes like a crossword or a puzzle
Set a time on your phone or smart speaker
Do not stop working until your timer goes off, even if you get a phone call or text
Nature has a great ability to shift our focus on the bigger picture
Leave all electronics inside
Focus on the trees, a bird, your breathing
Let your brain and body “reset”
Computer-Assisted Cognitive Rehabilitation
This type of brain exercise has been shown to be beneficial to recovery after a stroke or brain injury. The benefits include increased attention, improved executive function (which allows us to live independently), improves memory, and even being shown to assist those who have lost part of their vision due to a stroke or brain injury. (Zhao, Q, et al., 2021)
This link below is to a YouTube video that demonstrates how and why this kind of cognitive exercise can really improve overall outcomes and recovery for those with a brain injury from trauma or stroke.
With technology today, support groups, and the internet, I assure you, that you are not alone. We have so much more available to us today than those who were in our shoes just 10, 20, or 30 years ago.
If you are looking for a way to easily incorporate several of these ideas into an easy, affordable, and accessible part of your own in-home rehabilitation, there is a great company out there who can neatly box it up and deliver it to you!
This company has taken several different approaches to improve brain health for all older adults and put it into a monthly subscription box! You can sign up for one box to try it out and then decide how often you think a new box would be beneficial for you or someone you are caring for.
This includes many aspects of improving brain health including learning new information, using crafts and art to promote brain function, recalling memories of the past, and even puzzles to help keep individuals engaged and entertained.
For those of us left to our own devices after that devastating event of a stroke or traumatic brain injury, it can almost feel like we are drowning in information and we can’t possibly know which next steps to take.
When Mark had a stroke and we were sent home, I was a healthcare professional and still didn’t have all the answers.
Doing small things helped me to feel more in control. Finding the right people and activities that were affordable and also were accessible for Mark made a big difference for us.
Please know that I am also here to help and listen. Jump over to my email at:
Send me a message, question, or even an idea for an article you would like to see. I am a real person and read and respond to each and every email received! I care about this population of people and have made it my mission to do more to help every day. So just let me know what you need.
Barman A, Chatterjee A, Bhide R. Cognitive Impairment and Rehabilitation Strategies After Traumatic Brain Injury. Indian J Psychol Med. 2016 May-Jun;38(3):172-81. doi: 10.4103/0253-7176.183086. PMID: 27335510; PMCID: PMC4904751.
Gray LA. Living the Full Catastrophe: A Mindfulness-Based Program to Support Recovery from Stroke. Healthcare (Basel). 2020 Nov 19;8(4):498. doi: 10.3390/healthcare8040498. PMID: 33228109; PMCID: PMC7711731
McDonald MW, Black SE, Copland DA, et al. Cognition in stroke rehabilitation and recovery research: Consensus-based core recommendations from the second Stroke Recovery and Rehabilitation Roundtable. International Journal of Stroke. 2019;14(8):774-782. doi:10.1177/1747493019873600
Seeney R, Griffin J. The Lived Experience and Patient-reported Benefits of Yoga Participation in an Inpatient Brain Injury Rehabilitation Setting. Int J Yoga. 2020 Jan-Apr;13(1):25-31. doi: 10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_46_19. PMID: 32030018; PMCID: PMC6937874.
Zhao Q, Wang X, Wang T, Dmytriw AA, Zhang X, Yang K, Luo J, Bai X, Jiang N, Yang B, Ma Y, Jiao L, Xie Y. Cognitive rehabilitation interventions after stroke: protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Syst Rev. 2021 Mar 4;10(1):66. doi: 10.1186/s13643-021-01607-7. PMID: 33663590; PMCID: PMC7931553.