Benefits of Cognitive Exercises for AE Patients
What is Rehabilitation?
Autoimmune Encephalitis Warriors, (patients) often require rehabilitation due to an acquired brain injury (ABI). The neurologist will refer the AE patient for a neuropsychological evaluation to see what areas of the brain are not functioning properly and how that is impacting the patient’s daily living. The results are then used to create rehabilitation goals to re-learn and re-train the brain.
Rehabilitation is care that can help you get back, keep, or improve the abilities that you need for daily life. These abilities may be physical, mental, and/or cognitive (thinking and learning). The overall goal of rehabilitation is to help you get your abilities back and regain independence.
When you get rehabilitation, you often have a team of different health care providers helping you. They will work with you to figure out your needs, personal goals, and treatment plan. After an injury or illness that affects the brain, people are commonly referred for, to gain back independence for work, home, and family.
For AE patients this may include:
- Cognitive rehabilitation therapy to help you relearn or improve skills such as thinking, learning, memory, planning, and decision making.
- Music or art therapy to help you express your feelings, improve your thinking, and develop social connections
- Occupational therapy to help you with your daily activities
- Physical therapy to help your strength, mobility, balance, and fitness which includes Physical Exercise to improve cognitive functioning, mental health, and memory
- Recreational therapy to improve your emotional well-being through arts and crafts, games, relaxation training, animal-assisted therapy, and incorporating humor into your life which improves your immune system, mood, coping ability and provides pain relief
- Speech-language therapy to help with speaking, understanding, reading, writing, and swallowing
- Vocational rehabilitation to help you build skills for going to school or working at a job and assistive technology
- Vision therapy (Neuro-optometric rehabilitation) can improve the visual skills necessary for visual information processing, visual memory, balance, gait, motor skills and cognitive skills.
Cognitive exercises are a great way to improve and preserve cognitive function after an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI). Here are some of the best cognitive exercises for ABI you can do at home to sharpen your mental skills.
Just like how your body needs exercise to stay healthy, your brain needs to stay active in order to preserve function and recover from brain injury. Stimulating your brain through activity causes more neurons to fire, which helps keep your brain operating properly. After an ABI, it is especially important to exercise your brain so that you can engage neuroplasticity, which is your brain’s natural ability to rewire itself.
This is why IAES created AE Trivia Playing Cards. In order to learn new information successfully, it has to be re-packaged for short-term and long-term memory-impaired people so that it is in a simple, concrete form, in small chunks, and repeated frequently. This is also why IAES has developed AE memes. Another tool to support the AE patient’s deficits while utilizing their strengths.
But how do you exercise your brain?
You can do so by using several different cognitive exercises that challenge your brain to think in unique ways, causing it to create new neural pathways. These new pathways will help you strengthen many cognitive skills, such as memory and recall, and even regain some skills you may have lost!
Attention and Concentration Exercises for AE Patients
The following attention and concentration exercises will help you improve your ability to focus, pay attention to more than one thing at a time and improve memory function. Some of these exercises will require help from another person such as a caregiver or family member.
1. Repeat Numbers and Letters
Caregiver: say a list of letters or numbers in a slow, steady tone of voice and ask the person who has suffered the brain injury to make a mark on the paper every time they hear a certain number or letter
2. Rhythm Matching
One person should tap out a simple, two-step rhythm several times with their hand on the table (tap-delay-tap-tap). The person with the injury should try to match the rhythm.
If this seems too easy, both of you should turn your chairs around so you are not facing each other. This way you can only focus with your auditory processing.
3. “Add 3, Subtract 7”
Pick any 2-digit number, then add 3 to that number three times.
Next, subtract 7 from that final number, then repeat.
This exercise is great because your brain must attend to and hold on to several details at once. It also helps you get better at processing and organizing information.
4. Practice Fine Motor Exercises
Practicing fine motor skills is a great way to improve cognitive function after a brain injury, especially if these skills have been impaired. Some fine motor exercises you can try are:
- Stacking pennies
- Therapy putty exercises
- Stretching rubber bands
- Jigsaw puzzles
5. Use Your Non-Dominant Hand
If possible, try to use your non-dominant hand during daily activities every once in a while.
For example, brush your hair with your left hand instead of your right hand one day a week.
This not only engages a different side of your brain, it also stimulates your neurons to fire in a new way, which strengthens brain function.
6. Sit Outside and Journal
Sit outside, and write down everything you see, hear, and smell. This engages areas of the brain that are not usually active and will help improve your concentration.
If you have difficulty writing, you can also speak what you observe out loud. The important thing is to just pay close attention to your surroundings.
7. Picture Recall
For caregivers, place two different cards from a deck of playing cards face up and let the person view them for 5 seconds. Turn the cards face down.
Now ask them to point to the cards that are named (“point to the Queen”). Every once in a while, ask for a card that was not shown.
Increase the number of cards to a max of 5 as the person progresses.
8. Naming Therapy
This therapy is often used to help people suffering from aphasia recall words, but it’s also a great way to improve memory in general.
One good naming therapy exercise is to have someone else write down several general headings (such as tools, animals, plants, countries, occupation, foods, sports, etc.)
Then try to remember and name (verbally or in writing) as many items in that category as possible.
For caregivers, if the person with the brain injury is stumped, you can give hints. For example, if they can’t come up with any animal names, you can tell them to think of a farm or zoo, etc.
9. Grocery List
Have someone go to the grocery store with you and tell them to choose 2 or 3 food items.
Then, go and find those items without writing down what the person said. As you improve you should increase the number of items you must memorize until you can recall 7 items.
10. Making Change
Caregivers give the person some coins and ask them to tell you which coins would add up to 35 cents, 54 cents, etc.
11. Color Sudoku
Color Sudoku stimulates similar pattern and logic areas of the brain as number Sudoku does, but is easier for people who might still have trouble manipulating numbers.
12. Card Recall
A Great exercise to play with AE Trivia Cards! Select four playing cards in sequence (3 of clubs, 4 of clubs, 5 of clubs) and place in random order face up. After five seconds turn the cards face down.
Then turn the cards over in sequence (3, then 4, then 5).
As you improve increase the number of cards in the sequence, allowing one more second of view time for each card added, to a maximum of 7 cards.
13. Tower of Hanoi
The Tower of Hanoi is a great mathematical puzzle that can improve several cognitive abilities.
The puzzle consists of three rods and at least 3 disks. (The more disks there are, the harder the puzzle is.)
The goal of the puzzle is to move all the disks over from the first rod to the third without having a larger disk end up on top of a smaller one.
This not only engages the logic and problem-solving areas of your brain, but it also requires you to plan ahead and strategize, which helps train executive functions.
14. Chess, Sudoku, Sagrade, Rummikub, Azul, Scrabble, Rubik’s Cube, Word Search, and Crossword Puzzles
Chess and other brain-stimulating games like Sudoku, Sagrada, Rummikub, Azul, Scrabble, Rubik’s Cube, Word Search, and crossword puzzles are great for activating the left side of your brain and improving your problem-solving skills.
Scrabble, Word Search, and Crossword puzzles are especially helpful for developing word recall skills.
15. Wii Video Games
Wii video games are a great way to address impairments in cognitive, physical, and/or psychosocial functioning. In recent years, Wii and similar gaming systems have become increasingly popular in rehabilitation settings as therapists have recognized their potential for addressing a variety of treatment goals. The Wii offers activities that are entertaining and engaging which can motivate you to exercise your brain frequently.
Wii Video Games address many different areas. Physical Improvement: Balance, Gross motor skills, mobility, and coordination. Cognition: Attention, memory, information processing, and reaction time. Psychosocial areas: Social engagement, self-esteem, mood, and quality of life.
Brain Training Apps are highly recommended by Neurologists for people with brain injury as they are simple and easy to incorporate into our daily lives. Improve memory, increase focus, and find calm by using Lumosity Brain Training. Peak– Brain Training is a mobile app that allows you to improve your cognitive skills through the use of fun and stimulating games.
It’s also important to keep your emotional intelligence sharp by engaging in conversations where you evoke and attune to the emotions of others. Take time to have a meaningful conversation with a loved one and improve your emotional intelligence by observing and asking how they feel during the conversation.
This card pack is filled with stimulating questions like “What’s something that you’ll never try again?” or “What have you lost since childhood that you’d like to regain?”
This writing exercise journal is a helpful tool for AE patients. Improve memory, aphasia (forgetting words, using the wrong word but thinking the correct word), and cognitive deficits by writing stories using the list of words you need to incorporate in that story.
Writing in cursive helps to build neural pathways necessary to stimulate brain activity that enables vision-motor control and language fluency necessary for cognitive development, learning, reading, sports, socialization, and everyday tasks.
And there you have it! We hope you find these cognitive exercises useful on your road to recovery.
Word Search Puzzles
For Acquired Brain Injury after Autoimmune Encephalitis
Executive Functioning Worksheets
Learning Piano Actually Builds Brain Power
Consider learning to play the piano as an aspect of rehabilitation from AE.
The cognitive demands of learning piano could help with everything from planning skills and language development to reducing anxiety and even boosting memory!
Every time you sit down to play the piano, you’re giving your brain a monster workout, exercising your logical, creative, visual, auditory, emotional, and motor functions.
*article includes video.
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