In many ways the human brain is awe inspiring. 100,000 miles of blood vessels, capillaries and other connections run through it. It is made up of 100 billion cells and wired with a quadrillion connections. Every thought and feeling we have originates in our brain. It keeps our lungs breathing and our hearts pumping. But like any other organ in our body, the brain’s health can suffer, generating mental illness and substance abuse problems. Fortunately, there are methods for restoring the brain to health. One of these is cognitive remediation therapy.
Cognition is our mental activity – thinking, understanding, learning, and remembering. For a person challenged with mental illness or a substance abuse problem these basic functions become a challenge. They may become forgetful, have difficulty concentrating, planning, or managing their time. Simple daily tasks become difficult. People with cognitive impairments may also have difficulties with:
- Processing speed
- Keeping things “in mind”
- Planning complex tasks
Mental illness is frequently associated with a decrease in cognitive functioning. Here are some mental disorders that may cause cognitive impairments:
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Generalized anxiety disorder
Substance addiction can also significantly impair neurological functioning. Chronic alcohol abuse can be particularly devastating to brain health. The National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism reports that “A small but significant proportion of the heaviest drinkers may develop devastating, irreversible brain-damage syndromes, such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a disorder in which the patient is incapable of remembering new information for more than a few seconds”
What Is Cognitive Remediation Therapy?
The Society for Cognitive Rehabilitation defines cognitive rehabilitation therapy “as the process of relearning cognitive skills that have been lost or altered as a result of damage to brain cells/chemistry.” It was first developed to help those suffering from traumatic brain injuries. After World War I and World War II cognitive remediation techniques were developed to treat wounded soldiers who had lost brain function because of injuries sustained during combat.
How Does It Work?
The process often takes the form of exercises designed to improve cognitive functions. Just as physical exercise gets us into shape, cognitive remediation creates mental fitness. Cognitive rehabilitation exercises usually often take the form of games. For example, working on a “brain teaser” stimulates brain activity, thereby improving cognitive fitness. Memory games can also improve brain function. While these games may be fun they serve a vital purpose by helping to improve and repair damaged brain circuitry.
Cognitive remediation therapy can be a very effective component of drug abuse treatment. According to an article in BioPortfolio research has suggested that cognitive remediation exercises during the early phase of treatment may speed up the return of cognitive functioning and in so doing may have a direct effect on whether patients find the treatment useful and complete their treatment.