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Advice for choosing a brain injury rehabilitation program

A brain injury can happen to anyone at any time. Each year, an estimated 1.7 million Americans sustain traumatic brain injuries. Most of these occur during motor vehicle accidents or falls. Countless others suffer acquired brain injuries due to medical conditions such as strokes, tumors, and aneurysms. In addition, many of our returning servicemen and women sustained brain injuries secondary to blast injuries during their tours of duty. Navigating the options for rehabilitation can seem overwhelming. While the final decision regarding rehabilitation depends on individual circumstances, understanding the components of an exceptional program can make the process easier.


Do trust your instincts

You know your loved one (or yourself) better than anyone else. As you tour programs or speak with clinicians, you will likely know which program suits you or your family member best. Rehabilitation experts can provide information, but the final decision is up to you.

Do look for similarities

Patients in different programs may vary in age, disability, and diagnosis. Most individuals are more comfortable when they have a common denominator with other patients. In addition, programs may have more experience with a certain age group or diagnosis. Look for a program with experience in treating people like you or your loved one.

Do expect involvement and support

Family and support system involvement facilitates rehabilitation. Their participation provides important pre-injury information and feedback about progress. Patients and their family members should be intimately involved in treatment decisions. In addition, regular written and verbal contact should also be provided.

The rehabilitation process can be just as challenging for family and friends as it is for the patient. Rehabilitation programs frequently offer family counseling or support groups. Take advantage of support groups to learn from the experiences of others. Seek professional advice to gain understanding and address personal issues that may interfere with rehabilitation progress.

Do verify expertise

Does the program specialize in brain injury rehabilitation or is it just one of many services? Accreditation by the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Providers (CARF) as a Brain Injury Specialty Program, demonstrates a provider's commitment to continuously improving service quality. CARF is an independent accrediting body for rehabilitation programs. To achieve this voluntary accreditation, programs must meet rigorous CARF guidelines for quality and service.

Do discuss discharge

The goal of rehabilitation is for the individual to return to their former activities. To achieve this goal, discharge is an integral component of treatment planning and should be discussed at admission. Be sure that you understand and take an active role in the discharge planning process.


Do not focus on appearances

The clinical team and their experience are far more important than the furniture and decor of the program. It is best to consider more than one program to provide a basis for comparison. Active brain injury programs can be hard on their surroundings, so look for substance over style.

Do not accept denials

Without a doubt, insurance coverage is an important component of selection. However, insurance companies frequently go out of network or make special arrangements for rehabilitation services. If you are not satisfied with the providers in your insurance network, discuss with an insurance representative. It’s possible that other options are available.

Do not take a back seat

The goals of the patient and/or their family/support system should be integrated into the rehabilitation treatment plan. Make plans to discuss your goals early on to insure that they are included in service planning

Do not neglect input from patients

Current and former patients and their loved ones can provide a valuable perspective on the program. Ask to speak with these individuals either in person or by phone. Understanding their level of satisfaction with the services they received will add a personal aspect to clinical information.

Do not overlook outcomes

Request information regarding patient progress, length of stay, and discharge site. Programs should readily share this important information. The achievement of these benchmarks will speak volumes about the program’s effectiveness.

Jumping cartoon

A brain injury can occur in an instant, resulting in lifelong challenges. Choosing a brain injury rehabilitation center is an important step in recovery. Just as each individual and family is unique, rehabilitation is not the same in every program. Frequently, location and availability are the primary factors considered. While these are important for the short term, identifying the program with the highest quality care should be the deciding factor. Whether you are looking for a program for yourself or a loved one, shop around, ask questions, and review outcomes.

There are many exceptional brain injury rehabilitation programs and one of them is just right for you.

More expert advice about Injuries

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Cynthia L. Boyer, Ph.DExecutive Director

Dr. Boyer has more than 20 years experience as a clinician and administrator in neuropsychology and brain injury rehabilitation. She has adjunct faculty appointments at Rowan University (Department of Special Education), Widener University (Depa...

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