Decisions regarding when and where an individual should be treated at a particular point during the recovery process are complex and depend on many different factors including the level to which the person can be engaged actively and can participate to some degree in the rehabilitation process. Moderately to severely injured patients may receive specialized rehabilitation treatment that draws on the skills and knowledge of many specialists, involving treatment programs in the areas of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech/language therapy, physiatry (medical specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation), psychology, psychiatry, and social work, among others. The services and efforts of this team of healthcare professionals are generally applied to the practical concerns of and the pragmatic problems encountered by the brain injury survivor in their daily life. This treatment program is generally provided through a coordinated and self-organized process in the context of a transdisciplinary model of team healthcare delivery. This model keeps the primary focus on the overarching goal of optimizing patient function and independence through the coordinated application of discipline-specific expertise brought to bear on this issue by individual experts from various specific disciplinary backgrounds.
The overall goal of rehabilitation after a TBI is to improve the patient's ability to function at home and in society in the face of the residual effects of the injury, which may be complex and multifaceted. Therapists help the patient adapt to disabilities or change the patient's living space and conditions to make everyday activities easier and to accommodate residual impairments. Education and training for identified caregivers who will be involved in assisting the patient after discharge are also critically important components of the rehabilitation program.
Once the patient has been discharged from the inpatient rehabilitation treatment unit, the outpatient phase of care begins and goals often will shift from assisting the person to achieve independence in basic routines of daily living to assessing and treating broader psychosocial issues associated with long-term adjustment and community re-integration. Patients/clients will often have problems in the areas of general cognition, social cognition/awareness, behavior and emotional regulation that present significant challenges, in terms of being able to resume expected social roles. Often these problems are complicated by adjustment issues that emerge as the person becomes more aware of their residual deficits and faces the challenges of coming to terms with the long-term effects of the injury.
Other concerns such as posttraumatic stress disorder associated with preserved remembrance of emotionally provocative circumstances of injury, may emerge and complicate the recovery process.
An additional goal of the rehabilitation program is to prevent, wherever possible, but otherwise to diagnose and treat in an effective manner, any complications (e.g. posttraumatic hydrocephalus, neuro-endocrine deficiencies, adjustment reactions, deep venous thromboembolism, etc.) that may cause additional morbidity and mortality.
Some patients may need medication for psychiatric and physical problems resulting from the TBI, and various medications are available that may lessen or moderate the problematic manifestations of the injury without directly altering the underlying pathology. Great care must be taken in prescribing medications because TBI patients are more susceptible to side effects and may react adversely to some pharmacological agents or may be inordinately sensitive to them, for example, due to a more permeable blood-brain barrier due to injury effects. It is important for the family caregivers to provide assistance and encouragement for the patient by being involved in the rehabilitation program. Family members may also benefit from psychotherapy and social support services.
Support for caregivers becomes particularly important during the outpatient phase of care when behavioral and cognitive problems may complicate and impair the relationships that patients have with those around them. Major challenges occur in sustaining these relationships, particular in the context of marriage, when the impact of the injury significantly alters the relationship in such a way that the resumption of an adult-level interactive relationship may be deeply undermined.
It should be noted that similar principles of rehabilitation for diffuse brain injury can be applied to individuals with brain injury of both traumatic and nontraumatic etiologies. An all-encompassing term that can be applied to the various etiologies producing diffuse brain dysfunction that is precipitated during life in a previously fully functional individual is Acquired Brain Injury (ABI). TBI can therefore be viewed as a particular instance of ABI caused by trauma, and the principles of rehabilitation referred to here for TBI can be readily adapted and applied to individuals with all forms of ABI, independent of specific etiology.
Caretakers of traumatically brain injured patients can often feel a great deal of emotional stress, which can reduce the quality of care. Respite care such as supported living and residential holidays, supported days out doing activities like walking, cycling, kayaking and climbing offers relief for them and a new area of brain stimulation for the patient. When dealing with caretakers, providers of respite care need to be sensitive and reassuring; some caretakers may have feelings of guilt or inadequacy.