Neurobehavioral Challenges After Brain Injury
The effects of neurological damage from events like trauma and stroke can be devastating to the individual and those close to them. Brain injury can result in lifelong physical, cognitive, and behavioral changes. The impact of behavior changes can profoundly alter how the injured person functions day to day, even impeding rehabilitative goals and impacting the ability to live independently. Changes in personality and behavior following traumatic brain injury (TBI) often represent the most significant barrier to a successful outcome including reintegration into the community whether for basic daily tasks, work or recreational/social activities.
Common behavior issues following brain injury include behavioral excesses (occurring too much) such as irritability (e.g., poor tolerance, short temper) and aggression (e.g., hitting, grabbing, kicking), property destruction (e.g., striking furniture, throwing items) and inappropriate vocalizations (e.g., cursing, yelling, threats). Also presenting a concern are behavior deficits (do not occur enough) such as compliance with tasks (e.g., cooperation with requests), social skills (e.g., overfamiliar discussions, uncharacteristically rude remarks), initiation (e.g., knowing when to begin tasks) and the academic and return to work skills (e.g., being on time, following directions) to be successful. Some of the most difficult behaviors can be dangerous to the patient and others around them. Treating these dangerous and challenging behaviors, which may include physical aggression toward others, self-injurious behavior, sexual disinhibition, and escape or elopement, requires a treatment commitment across the continuum of care.
In the early, acute stages of recovery from brain injury, many of the behavioral complications demonstrated are considered to be a normal phase of recovery. When these behaviors continue beyond those early phases, however, and form on-going negative patterns of interaction with others, very specialized treatment is required. These behaviors can be disturbing to families and staff, disruptive to therapy, and jeopardize patient safety. The future quality of life for the patient and their family depends on effective interventions, provided with a great deal of consistency and structure. Behavior analysts (professionals in Applied Behavior Analysis) add value to interdisciplinary rehabilitation teams by helping to develop both skill acquisition and behavior reduction programs throughout the patient’s recovery (i.e., acute, post-acute, long term care). Behavior analysts spend a great deal of time directly observing interactions, determining what may be motivating the difficult behaviors, and what responses may need to be strengthened and reinforced. The behavior analyst must then provide training to all those who may interact with the patient, including most importantly, the family. This skilled, specialized intervention establishes more effective and acceptable response patterns that allow the patient to have their needs met and be better understood without displaying problem behavior. The structured behavior plan can also help the patient develop positive, prosocial responses, and more efficient functional skills.
The effects of brain injury are highly individual, which then challenges the behavior analysts, family and others on the treatment team to continually evaluate the responses, goals, and outcomes throughout recovery (e.g., monitoring response to new medications).
Considering the risk to patients and families, the rising healthcare cost and the possibility of reduced services being available, a focus on efficient and effective interventions such as behavior analysis seems essential to a well-integrated, interdisciplinary rehabilitation treatment team. The quality of life for those affected by brain injury depends on having the opportunity to receive not just the standard rehabilitation one might get following knee surgery but rather specialized, experienced and effective treatment specifically designed to address the unique difficulties they face including difficult behavior.