On June 7th, 2014, actor and comedian Tracy Morgan’s life changed forever. Morgan and fellow comedian James McNair were driving in a limo van along the New Jersey turnpike when a fatigued WalMart truck driver slammed into their vehicle. The force of the impact killed McNair and left Morgan in a coma with a traumatic brain injury.
Morgan’s injuries were so severe that he remained blind for six days after he woke up from his coma. During the first few months after his accident, Morgan had great difficulty walking unassisted. He also suffered from memory issues and headaches.
Despite his brain injury, Morgan returned to his life as a professional entertainer in late 2015 by hosting Saturday Night Live. Why was Morgan able to heal and return to his old life? Morgan underwent months of rehabilitation and likely many different types of therapy to help his brain adapt to its injury.
Neuroplasticity is an important concept to understand if we are going to discuss how the brain can recover after being injured.
Neuroplasticity and Brain Injury Rehabilitation
Neuroplasticity is a medical term that describes how the brain can reorganize existing neural connections and build new ones. To put this into layman’s terms, the brain can rebuild itself after being injured.
People who have suffered from a brain injury can learn skills they may have forgotten, such as walking or talking, thanks to the brain’s neuroplasticity. These skills are performed repeatedly so the brain can adapt and build new neural pathways. Rehabilitation may involve several different types of therapies.
Cognitive rehabilitation therapy (or CRT): CRT involves exercises used to strengthen cognitive skills, such as memory or recognizing cues. This type of therapy can vary significantly depending on the person.
Speech therapy: People with brain injuries can have aphasia, a condition that complicates speaking and understanding language. Speech therapy can involve speaking sentences or adapting strategies to overcome slurred speech.
Physical therapy: Some people with brain injuries will be unable to walk unassisted. Physical therapy can involve exercise or using muscles to control flexibility.
Depending on the person, brain injury rehabilitation can involve several types of therapy. Much like Tracy Morgan, it is possible to relearn forgotten skills through extensive rehabilitation.