Faces puzzle Jonathan Keleher. Deciding where to “put” an individual’s eyes, nose and mouth takes immense effort. This may sound familiar to therapists who work with stroke or TBI patients. However Jonathan’s unique condition offers therapists who work with brain injured patients a rare opportunity to learn more about the brain. For neuro therapists and neurologists, Jonathan Keleher is a gift. He was born without a cerebellum and is dedicating his life to brain research.
A recent story on National Public Radio chronicled the life of Keleher, and what neuropsychiatrists are finding out about the brain using studies like his. Keleher’s parents noticed that he struggled to accomplish normal childhood milestones and enrolled him in speech and physical therapy as a preschooler. However, it wasn’t until he was 5 years old that they realized he was completely missing a cerebellum. This NPR story shows how Keleher not only struggles with walking and talking, but also emotional skills like forming intimate relationships with those around him and the abstract thought it takes to understand faces.
New insight into how the brain works
Researchers previously thought that the cerebellum was only in charge of fine-tuning motor skills, but because of cases like Keleher’s, neuropsychiatrists are now discovering that it fine-tunes emotional and language skills, as well. In fact, researchers are finding that those who have trouble with abstract thought, like autistic individuals, are benefiting from therapies that target their cerebellum. One therapy that has been successful is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). By “waking up” the cerebellum with electric currents, some individuals were able to remove the clunkiness of not only their motor skills, but their abstract thinking as well. Keleher does not have a cerebellum to “wake up” but there are brain-training therapies that have enabled other parts of his brain to compensate, and he has made major improvements over time according to the NPR story.
New hope for patients with brain injury
Teaching a patient to compensate for lost skills after a stroke or major accident can be trying and time-consuming, but this research shows quite a bit of hope that cognitive rehabilitation can make a huge difference. These therapies, however, may not be what people typically think of when they hear the term “Brain Training.“ According to the Brain Injury Resource Center, “Brain injury rehabilitation must be designed taking into account a broad range of neuro-functional strengths and weaknesses. Basic skills must be strengthened before more complex skills are added.” What Keleher has shown is that therapists need to tap into other areas of the brain that can take over what has been lost when another part gets injured. And perhaps one of the most important findings is that quality therapy requires years, not months.
Want to learn more?
Because of the great potential cognitive rehabilitation has in all medical fields, brain training will be an up and coming trend in the therapy world. If you would like to find further resources on what this all involves, visit this overview from the Brain Injury Resource Center on Cognitive Rehabilitation. If you are interested in finding a job that specializes in this Cognitive Rehabilitation, contact one of the recruiters at PT Solutions. We help rehabilitation hospitals and out patient specialty clinics connect with therapists.