What Is Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapy?

Abstract brain wave concept

In the previous blog, I went into some depth about what kinds of cognitive impairments may be experienced after a brain injury, and specifically how those may affect veterans returning to life after the military and others. I wanted to create some context for today’s blog about cognitive rehabilitation so it’s clear exactly what cognitive rehabilitation addresses in someone who has impairments from brain injury and why it matters to their life.

Cognitive rehabilitation is the focus of Dr. Anthony Chen, a neurologist at the VA at the Center for Integrated Brain Health and Wellness in Martinez, CA. He’s also on the faculty of the Veterans Affairs Northern California Health Care System and the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Chen works with patients one-on-one and also helps develop researched-based rehabilitation treatment programs. You can watch my interview with him below.

Let’s take a look at what he studies.

Cognitive rehabilitation

Cognitive rehabilitation is an approach to treating cognitive impairments in people to help them regain cognitive function. Ideally, the brain will heal over time and full function will be relearned and restored, but if that doesn’t happen, then skills to compensate for deficits are implemented.

CRT can be done in an inpatient or outpatient setting. It is used to help those who have experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or a stroke, or another process that disturbs brain function. A particular type of CRT has been developed to help those with other conditions such as depression and schizophrenia.

Cognitive rehabilitation therapy (CRT) has four aspects:

  1. Helping someone become aware of which areas are strong and which areas are weak. For example, someone may have issues with memory but show no issues with attention and concentration.
  2. Process Training. Focusing on resolving the problem by retraining and practicing the skill(s).
  3. Strategy Training. Focusing on compensating for impairments by using a variety of internal and external strategies.
  4. Functional Activities Training. Focusing on improvements that affect “real life” by learning how to apply these skills in day-to-day activities.

As you can see, CRT is necessarily very individualized. Each person will experience different impairments, and more importantly, those impairments will have a different impact on each person’s life. CRT addresses individual skills separated from the context in which they’re used as well as how to apply those skills in the context of daily life. The overall goal is to improve a person’s quality of life and help them succeed in their goals.

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Addressing cognitive impairments to increase quality of life

Dr. Chen says his goal is to help his patients thrive in life after the military. Neurologists like Dr. Chen, and others like physiatrists, speech and occupational therapists, and psychologists working in rehabilitation are helping people with brain injuries, veterans and non-veterans alike, to overcome their cognitive impairments so they can achieve their life goals. For more on this topic, watch the interview with Dr. Chen below or here.

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