After a serious accident that involves trauma to the brain, it is often necessary for a patient to undergo cognitive skills retraining. This is a therapeutic process with the goal of improving memory, attention span, organization, problem solving and decision making skills. In some cases, the goal of the retraining will be a complete recovery while in other more severe instances the goal will be more modest, perhaps just to return the person to a functional state and improve their quality of life.
Cognitive skills retraining programs must be individually designed to address the patient’s shortcomings. It must be undertaken in stages as they progress towards recovery. The results of each stage will indicate how far the training can be taken and how complete the recovery will be. As with all forms of cognitive training, it is important that it is done in a way that the patient will be able to transfer newly relearned skills from the clinical setting back to their home. Improvements and positive results are only worthwhile if they can be repeated in a real world setting.
One of the basic keys to retraining is repetition. Relearning a skill by doing it again and again is the only way for it to become automatic. For many skills, computer programs can be a very helpful part of the process and are increasingly used in cognitive skill retraining. The use of computer programs can also allow a patient to work on improving their skills on their own schedule. This is important because traumatic brain injuries are often accompanied with a host of other physical and psychological problems that may distract focus from the training.
Computers cannot do it all, however, and cognitive retraining requires the work of a psychiatrist or psychologist and often a speech therapist. It is best for retraining to take place in a quiet space where the subject is comfortable and not distracted. Being calm is important for cognitive skills to function properly and doubly important when they are being learned. For a patient who is severely emotionally scarred as well as physically hurt, it may not be possible to start cognitive skills retraining right away. Once they are in a less volatile state, retraining can begin, but it may still require large amounts of patience.
There are a large variety of tools that can be used to cognitive skills retraining. Memory retraining requires teaching the patient pneumonic devices and other strategies, like rhyming, that can be used to aid memory. Many of the techniques that are taught are things that healthy brains do without us being totally conscious of it. Along with memory training, patients will be given tasks that require them to pay attention and avoid distractions. This skill can be practiced in conjunction with others like reasoning and problem solving. For these skills games can be employed that progressively push the patient to think through a problem. The final stage of the retraining is working on decision making skills where the other skills that have been relearned are used to solve real world type problems. The patient’s progress with this skill will provide an indicator of their progress.