Neuroplasticity is defined as the brain’s ability to reorganize and regenerate neural connections. This means after a neurological event, such as a stroke or brain injury, the brain has the ability to recover. Research shows us that this neuroplasticity is strongest when linked to meaningful or familiar occupations. Occupation doesn’t refer to employment, but rather the everyday tasks that engage your attention and motivation. Occupations could be as simple as bathing, dressing, or brushing your teeth. They can be as complex as cooking Thanksgiving dinner, fishing, playing catch with your grandson, or gardening. At Sage Outpatient, therapists are specially trained to engage the brain and body in intensive neurological-recovery through merging evidence-based interventions and meaningful occupation.
Occupational Therapy’s Role
Occupational Therapy’s goal is maximizing functional independence either by improving the skills needed to complete the task or by modifying the task itself. When you meet your occupational therapist, they will begin to explore the roles that make you YOU; are you a mother, father, grandparent, quilter, artist, hunter, gardener, secretary, carpenter, driver… these are the roles we use to identify ourselves. Common neurological deficits such as vision loss, loss of strength, inability to stand or walk, or cognitive difficulties can interrupt your ability to access or perform these meaningful occupations. This is where occupational therapy can step in to improve these deficits, teach new ways or strategies, or modify the task for success. Occupational therapists (OTs) are experts in problem solving!
Your Treatment Should Be as Unique as You
Neuroplasticity is strongest when linked to meaningful occupation. During a neurologic recovery, your treatment interventions should be as unique as you are. This means using those roles and tasks that define you as a means to regenerate neural pathways and regain function. When you step into the Sage outpatient gym, you will see patients and therapists gardening, working on a saddle, throwing a football, pushing a shopping cart, or cooking a meal. There’s a method to this madness! What may seem like a patient painting on a window is actually using their role as an artist to improve deficits such as standing, endurance, visual scanning and visual perception, attention, memory, weight bearing, and strengthening the affected side. A patient who loves to cook using a can opener to create a Thanksgiving side is working on sustained lateral grasp, strengthened pronation/supination, scapular stability, standing balance, endurance, motor coordination, and cognition. Neuro recovery happens when the brain and body are engaged together and the patient is motivated.
Improvise, Adapt, Persevere, Overcome
Occupational therapists can be analytical, creative, and determined to find the right solution to any problem. In addition to breaking down a task to work on functional deficits, OTs are trained to modify equipment or the task for success. Whether it’s one-handed buttoning aids, long handles reachers, anti-tremor feeding utensils, voice activated technology for hands-free home access, or a customized fishing pole holder, OTs will find the right tool to get the job done. The Sage occupational therapists have helped individuals with limb loss return cooking with customized adaptive equipment, a hair dresser who experienced a stroke return to cutting hair (even some of the therapists’ hair!), a new mom with a brain injury feed her baby, and a young man with a spinal cord injury return to driving and school. By tailoring therapy interventions to address the roles that are important to patients, we can help them return to normal life as successfully as possible.
The occupational therapy team at Sage explores what is important to you because evidence-based practice clearly shows that neuroplasticity occurs when the brain and body are engaged meaningful occupational engagement. Occupational therapists specialize in analyzing the tasks patients are motivated to return to and creatively problem solving to help patients reach their goals.