Returning to Work after a Brain Injury: Fastest Isn’t Always Best

Recovery from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the patient’s return to work can have innumerable paths based on the severity of the injury, but comprehensive evaluations and therapy are critical to success.

“I understand that these folks are eager to get back to work and need that paycheck,” said Laura Wiggs, VP of Clinical Services with Mentis Neuro Health. “The biggest mistake we see is rushing the return to work too early.”

People with a mild TBI have a much better likelihood of returning to work quickly, according to Wiggs. Those with moderate to severe injuries may not be able to go back to work without significant accommodations made by their employers.

Since TBI patients typically have limited responsibilities before a hospital discharge, it can be challenging to understand their full needs at that point. The only demands put on a person with a brain injury while still in the hospital include turning on the TV, eating, getting up to walk and possibly completing some paper tasks, Wiggs said. A patient at this phase can look pretty good so a caregiver often thinks their loved one is ready to move home. “That’s when things often fall apart,” Wiggs said.

Common complaints from people with TBI are struggling to keep up with things, having poor organizational skills, becoming overwhelmed easily, cognitive and/or physical fatigue, overstimulation to noise or activity going on around them and being quick to anger. Wiggs said many struggle with having to do multiple activities at once and even prioritization. “These things are really hard, especially right at first when a person with a brain injury is trying to get back into the swing of things,” Wiggs added.

Once a patient has been discharged from the hospital, Mentis Neuro Health, a leader in the provision of post-acute rehabilitation for persons with an acquired brain injury, begins with evaluations across cognitive abilities, including neuropsychological, speech, occupational, physical and social arenas.

“We guide the treatment specific to each person’s needs with the ultimate goal of returning to work,” Wiggs added.

If a person with a TBI aims to return to a physical job, such as working in a plant with 12-hour shifts and is required to climb a ladder, Mentis Neuro Health prepares the patient to take on the physical responsibilities required by that job. In contrast, preparations for a traditional office employee are needed as they prepare to work long hours in front of a computer, doing data entry. Wiggs refers to this type of counseling as task simulation.

“We’re also working on developing strategies to compensate for possible memory impairments, organizational problems and speech issues,” Wiggs said.

Customized methods that work for each individual are essential. Wiggs clarified that one patient may be able to use a smart phone for a lot of reminders, while another may need to write reminders down and carry an old fashioned, paper-type planner to stay organized and on track. Some of this has to do with learning styles, Wiggs said, but what worked for someone before may not work after a TBI.

Wiggs said that people are always shocked at how tired they are both physically and mentally once they return to work. They may need strategies to overcome the fatigue—from aerobic exercises for muscle strengthening and good sleep techniques to sometimes even taking 15-20 minute breaks during the work day. In some instances, the return to work after a brain injury may only be a part-time role, although a phased approach may get the individual back to work full-time at some point.

With clinics across Texas and in Ohio, Mentis Neuro Health is ready to jumpstart TBI patients’ recovery process with meaningful rehabilitation therapy with a careful eye on the goal of returning to work. Learn more about the various programs offered at http://www.MentisNeuro.com/.

By | 2017-10-11T13:19:41+00:00 February 26th, 2017|TBI|

About the Author: