Environmental Enrichment As Rehabilitation After Traumatic Brain Injury.

The World Health Organization estimates that traumatic brain injuries (TBI) will become the leading cause of mortality and disability within the next three years. Those recovering from a TBI typically experience a wide range of motor impairments, cognitive deficits, and general disruption of daily life. Fortunately, neurorehabilitation programs offer significant benefits during the recovery period and can be invaluable to those suffering from long-term symptoms.

A group of researchers recently sought to discover the best way to deliver neurorehabilitation programs. They hypothesized that continual, multi-hour sessions might be too tiring for TBI patients – up to half of whom report abnormal fatigue – and that breaking the rehabilitation sessions into smaller chunks of time over the course of a day would be more effective. To test this, the researchers studied environmental enrichment (EE), the animal model equivalent of neurorehabilitation. One group of participants received two three-hour sessions of EE, while another group received a single six-hour session; the researchers then ran a number of cognitive and motor assessments to determine which group showed more improvement. While they did find that the participants who received any kind of EE showed significantly better motor and cognitive function than those who didn’t receive EE, they found no significant differences between the two EE groups.

Although breaking EE into shorter time periods did not appear to have significant effects, the importance of post-TBI neurorehabilitation cannot be overstated. Those who receive early rehabilitation after injury typically experience a number of neurological benefits and an improved quality of life, and further research into neurorehabilitation programs will continue as clinicians seek the best treatment options for their patients.

Radabaugh HL, LaPorte MJ, Green AM, et al. Refining environmental enrichment to advanced rehabilitation based research after experimental traumatic brain injury. Experimental Neurology. (April 2017).

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