What Is Neurorehabilitation?

Specialized rehabilitation known as neurorehabilitation can help people with nervous system issues.

Neurorehabilitation addresses the challenges that a neurologic condition or injury can create. These include problems with movement, balance, speech, activities of daily living, and more.

“This is a specialty area of practice that really emerged because the needs of our patients with various different neurologic conditions can certainly vary,” says Darcy Bonaventura, DPT, board-certified neurologic clinical specialist and director, Neurologic/Vestibular Outpatient Program, UPMC Rehabilitation Institute. “They respond to certain different sets of exercises, and there’s different standards of care for various different neurologic conditions.”

The mission of neurorehabilitation is to meet your goals and improve quality of life.

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Who Can Neurorehabilitation Help?

Neurorehabilitation can help people with disorders or trauma to the brain. It can also people with issues relating to their spinal cord and nerves. Candidates for this can range from people who had an acute injury to those with chronic issues.

Some conditions that might qualify you for it include:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  • Movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.
  • Neurologic disorders, such as multiple sclerosis (MS).
  • Peripheral neuropathy.
  • Spinal cord injury.
  • Stroke.
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI).
  • Vestibular disorder (inner ear balance/dizziness disorder).

Darcy says they also can help patients who are older and have a higher risk of falling.

“There is a large percentage of our patients who are living their lives in the community having intermittent issues with their mobility,” Darcy says. “Discussions with their primary care provider about these challenges can facilitate a referral to our services.”

What Happens in Neurorehabilitation?

Neurorehabilitation at UPMC Rehabilitation Institute involves a multidisciplinary team approach.

An individual might get occupational, physical, or speech therapy. They also may get some combination of the three. Which they get depends on their needs.

Neurorehabilitation may include:

  • Activities of daily living.
  • Balance exercises and fall prevention.
  • Cognitive exercises.
  • Endurance training.
  • Pain and stress management.
  • Speech therapy.
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises.
  • Swallowing exercises.
  • Task-specific training to increase independence.

Your care team also can find out whether you’ll need assistive devices and safety measures in your home. They’ll also work with your family, friends, and others who can help you outside of therapy.

“Physical therapy tends to address more gross mobility issues, with the goal of helping patients to become independent,” Darcy says. “Therapy sessions can work on activities such as bed mobility, transfers, and walking. Therapists address fall risk-related issues and might implement assistive devices or braces to help people with how they do getting around in their day-to-day.

“Occupational therapy addresses what we call activities of daily living. That might entail activities like bathing and dressing or household-related chores. Occupational therapists are instrumental in making recommendations for adaptive devices to help patients become more independent and efficient with their daily tasks.

“Speech therapy addresses speech and swallowing-related problems. Equally as important, they screen and address cognitive-related impairments that can go alongside these diagnoses as well.”

Everyone is different, so everyone’s specific treatment is different, Darcy says. Your care team will work with you on your unique treatment goals and tailor your treatment to meet them.

The team creates treatment plans with input from those who need them.

“I think it’s important to have patients be at the center of establishing what their goals are,” Darcy says. “And that helps us to then figure out what we need to be working on. That way, they’re doing things that are very meaningful to them.

“Our capacity to work one on one with patients allows us to be attentive to the needs of our patients and to develop close relationships with them. This can be beneficial in helping patients achieve their goals.”

How Long Does Neurorehabilitation Last?

How long neurorehabilitation lasts varies depending on the person. Some people may need a short assessment to figure out their home exercises, Darcy says. Others may need months of therapy to become independent again.

Further testing can help those who face ongoing challenges, Darcy says.

“Even if things are stable neurologically, patients are going to be aging with these problems,” she says. “It’s just making sure that we can stay ahead of the curve, addressing any issues that might arise and really trying to keep people as high-functioning as they can be in their communities and with their daily lives to maintain a good quality of life.”

The ultimate aim of neurorehabilitation is to help people achieve goals, Darcy says. That can include improving functioning and restoring independence.

Helping people meet their goals is “one of the most fulfilling parts of what we do,” Darcy says.

“I would venture to say probably a large reason why most of us get into this profession is being able to help people achieve that,” she says. “I think the most impactful part of working patients in neurologic rehab is helping them meet their goals, observing the sense of pride patients have in doing so, and seeing the quality-of-life enhancements that this brings. It’s very rewarding to be a part of people’s journeys.

“I think our program is unique in the sense that we have highly trained and dedicated therapists that treat and see these individuals,” Darcy adds. “So, our therapists tend to have more one-on-one time just based on more of the one-on-one needs that patients might have. They have advanced training in best practices in neurologic rehab.

“I feel like we have a lot to offer as far as the standards and quality of care that we provide.”

UPMC Rehabilitation Institute offers neurorehabilitation services at more than 20 locations. For more information or to request an appointment, visit our website.

About UPMC Rehabilitation Institute

The UPMC Rehabilitation Institute offers inpatient, outpatient, and transitional rehabilitation, as well as outpatient physician services so that care is available to meet the needs of our patients at each phase of the recovery process. Renowned physiatrists from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as highly trained physical, occupational, and speech therapists, provide individualized care in 12 inpatient units within acute care hospitals and over 80 outpatient locations close to home and work.