Can therapeutic recreation help veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI)?

Yes. If you are a returning veteran with traumatic brain injury (TBI) therapeutic recreation can be very helpful. According to Sarah Williams Volf, Director of Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities (CAMO), “Traumatic brain injury has become the most significant injury of this particular combat [in Iraq and Afghanistan]. It wasn't focused on to begin with because it’s hidden, so you don't see it.” 

Patients with TBI face different challenges from those with only physical disabilities, so it is best to find a program that includes activities planned specifically for participants with TBI.

Says Volf, “In 2006, one young man came to us from the VA who was able bodied, but had lost an eye, was deaf in one ear, and had a brain injury. Even the guys who had just one arm, if we were saying ‘hey we’re going to load the boats at 9,’ they would be ready because cognitively they could function, whereas for him it was a challenge. To begin with, he withdrew from the group because he did not always understand, and he was delayed with his speech and his thought process. But over the course of the 10 days, he really excelled in that group. He became part of a team, and his self confidence improved. For the first half of the trip he would always wear a hat because he was embarrassed about his appearance. By the end he didn't care.” This experience led Volf to develop several new programs at CAMO to meet the special needs of the growing TBI population.

CAMO now runs an annual week-long recreational and educational program specifically for wounded warriors with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and polytrauma. Activities include an overnight rafting and camping trip in the desert, a relaxing day at the hot springs and various other outdoor activities such as horseback-riding.

CAMO also offers an equine therapy camp that is a community based collaboration between CAMO and Sopris Therapy Services. Equine Assisted Therapy is proven to be a beneficial and highly effective treatment for numerous physical, neurological, cognitive, and emotional conditions, directly addressing difficulties with movement, gross and fine motor control, perception, problem solving, and expressive/receptive language.

Therapeutic recreation for veterans can benefit both body and mind. It can help you face challenges and move forward with confidence, and can complement other types of therapy in your overall rehabilitation from a traumatic brain injury.
Lakeshore Admin
Yes. If you are a returning veteran with traumatic brain injury (TBI) therapeutic recreation can be very helpful. Mild to moderate TBI is an increasingly common injury among wounded warriors. Every individual with TBI is different, but some issues that often come up are cognitive difficulties such as trouble with memory, dizziness or loss of balance, and severe headaches. A good therapeutic recreation program will tailor their activities to your specific needs.

Mandy Goff, MS, of the Lakeshore Foundation has found that some of the most beneficial activities for individuals with TBI include:
  • Air rifle or air pistol shooting: requires intense focus and control of breathing, which has a calming effect
  • Fishing: an outdoor activity that has a calming pace
  • Recumbent trikes or handcycles: these are lower to the ground than conventional bicycles, so are good for people with balance difficulties
  • Indoor climbing wall: enhances mental focus and helps overcome dizziness and balance issues
  • Even scuba diving and skiing can be adapted for veterans with TBI: shallow pool diving or sit-skiing can allow participation in these activities without worry about the risks
Staff can help facilitate memory of instructions by incorporating some simple cues and repeating them as needed. Often TBI participants have an easier time focusing on just one instructor, rather than multiple staff members for an activity. Frequent breaks can help prevent fatigue and headache. Any level of TBI, mild to severe can be accommodated to take advantage of the benefits recreation therapy offers.

Participation in a therapeutic recreation program can increase self-esteem for TBI patients and pave the way for positive steps in rehabilitation.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.