How Can Speech Therapy Help with Concussion Recovery?

Concussions have been in the news recently, and for good reason. Studies have found that athletes who sustain multiple concussions have high rates of a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). According to the Boston University CTE Center, over 90% of former NFL players show signs of CTE.

However, concussions aren’t limited to sports injuries. In fact, most concussions are caused by falls. And, while repeated concussions can lead to brain disease, a single concussion can also significantly affect your quality of life.

In some cases, speech therapy is an effective treatment for concussion. Read on to learn the symptoms of a concussion and how speech therapy can help concussion recovery.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of brain injury that can’t be seen on X-rays or scans. In the medical community, it's referred to as a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI).

Concussions occur when the brain moves back and forth rapidly. That sudden movement causes chemical changes in the brain, which can impact speech, cognition, balance, and more. Common causes of concussion include falls, car accidents, and sports injuries. 

What are the symptoms of a concussion?

Signs and symptoms of a concussion usually show up shortly after the initial injury. According to the CDC, common acute symptoms of concussion may include: 

  • Headache

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea 

  • Dizziness

  • Vision problems, such as double or blurry vision 

  • Sensitivity to light and noise

  • Sleep problems

  • Cognitive-communication difficulties, such as reduced memory, attention, and executive functioning, as well as problems finding the words you want to say (known as word retrieval problems)

A variety of tests can be performed to identify the effects of a concussion, including neuropsychological exams. These tests assess language, attention, memory, and problem-solving skills.

What is post-concussion syndrome?

After a concussion, some people may suffer persistent symptoms that don’t go away. Protracted concussion recovery, also referred to as post-concussion syndrome (PCS), can be diagnosed when symptoms continue longer than expected.

Post-concussion syndrome can affect many parts of your life, including relationships, work, and school.

Concussions can feel like an invisible injury. The person recovering from the head injury may seem just fine to other people. However, post-concussion syndrome can affect many parts of your life. Individuals with PCS often have a hard time maintaining relationships, participating in hobbies, and attending work or school. 

Treatment for post-concussion syndrome

If you’ve had a concussion and your symptoms are persisting, it may feel hard to find help. However, resources are out there. Here are some examples of people, both professional and personal, who can help as you recover: 

  • Family and friends 

  • Teachers/managers

  • Classmates/coworkers 

  • Primary care doctor

  • Neurologist

  • Neuropsychologist

  • Counselor  

  • Physical therapist

  • Occupational therapist

  • Speech therapist  

How can speech therapy help with concussion treatment? 

Speech therapy is often a valuable part of concussion treatment and recovery. A speech therapist can help you manage and overcome cognitive-communication concerns such as word-finding, problems with attention, and memory difficulty. 

So what does a speech therapist do for a concussion?

Assess cognitive-communication functioning. During your first appointment, your speech therapist will assess how the concussion is impacting your functional speech, language, and cognitive (or thinking) skills. 

Identify and work toward goals. During that first session, your speech therapist will also help you decide on your personal treatment goals. There’s only limited evidence to suggest that isolated cognitive drills in workbooks and apps lead to meaningful improvements. Instead, your speech therapist will help you choose and work toward functional goals that you can use in your everyday life. Those might be things like ordering from your favorite coffee shop, keeping track of customer records, or answering questions at work or school. 

Provide education. Speech therapists are experts in cognitive-communication. Your speech therapist will teach you about concussion and brain health. Your speech therapist can also provide your loved ones with education and support. In a recent systematic review regarding cognitive rehabilitation, educating and coaching patients’ family members was found to be highly effective. 

Teach compensatory strategies. Your speech therapist will teach you compensatory strategies you can use to improve your thinking skills. These strategies might include making associations, categorizing, writing things down in a notebook/phone, setting alarms as reminders, or using techniques such as the Pomodoro Technique or Goal Plan Do Review.

Outline and recommend accommodations. Your speech therapist can help you create a list of accommodations to ask for at work or school.

  • Work accommodations might include working in a distraction-free environment, adjusting your schedule, or working remotely.

  • School accommodations could include extra time on tests, speech-to-text support for writing activities, and modified assignments.

The most important aspect of the accommodations is that they be individualized and flexible, so they can address your needs throughout recovery.

A speech therapist can help you manage cognitive-communication concerns such as word-finding and problems with attention and memory. 

Connect you to other resources. Connecting with other people who are going through similar experiences can be helpful. Concussion support groups offer this opportunity. Brain Injury Alliance has state-based chapters with concussion support groups. Pink Concussions and Love Your Brain also have support groups and programs for individuals with PCS.  

Empower you to manage your recovery by using your resiliency. Individuals who have sustained head injuries are resilient. Period. Speech therapists can help you identify and use this resilience.

The ultimate goal of speech therapy is for you to feel confident that you can use the strategies you’ve learned in everyday life. In other words, we want you to become your own speech therapist! Harnessing your resilience can help you achieve this goal.

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