We interview Paula Díaz, Therapist at the Healthcare Department on Acquired Brain Injury day

Paula works at the Canis Majoris Foundation as an Animal Assisted Therapist, among the centers she attends is the Leganés CAMF where she performs therapies with her co-worker, Mini (her partner and therapy dog), to two groups of users with diverse capacities and needs. Among these people  are four users with acquired brain injury (ABI),  varying greatly in the characteristics and difficulties of each.

Tell us about the day to day of people who suffer from acquired brain injury

This group is characterized precisely by that: depending on the area of ​​the brain that is affected there are some altered abilities or others. In the case of these four people, all of them have their mobility affected, to a greater or lesser extent, and also speech. Some also have difficulties in understanding, attention or memory.

Three of these users have already done at least two courses of Assisted Therapies with Animals (AAT), achieving great improvements in their mood, communication, mobility of the upper limbs and social integration. Their attitude is enthusiastic  every day, they always smile when they greet Mini in the mornings.

Thanks to this attitude they manage to overcome some obstacles they find in their day to day lives, such as moving their upper limbs. As they are motivated by their ability to take care of Mini and show him affection, they make movements that are very complex. They also find it easier to express their emotions and establish relationships with the rest of the group, as the dog acts as a bridge between them. Some of the difficulties that are also often found in the therapy refer to their faculty of memory and attention, however, the dog is a key to them that helps them remember, as it fixes their interest and constitutes a contextual key.

What do we mean when we talk about brain damage?

According to the Spanish Federation of Brain Damage, “Acquired Brain Injury” (ABI) is a sudden injury to the brain. It is characterized by its sudden onset and by the varied set of sequelae it presents according to the area of ​​the injured brain and the severity of the damage. These sequelae cause abnormalities in perception, physical, cognitive and emotional alterations.”

The causes of ABI are varied: anoxias, brain tumors, infections … although the main one is stroke. The sequelae left by this brain damage are unpredictable: they can be at the level of alertness, in motor control, sensory and sensory alterations can occur, sequelae at the level of communication or cognition, emotions and personality … In short, sequelae that affect the daily lives of people.

How is Animal Assisted Therapy focused on people with brain damage?

The Animal Assisted Therapy that is provided in this group is very focused on  physical contact, to improve and not lose the movement that they conserve of their upper limbs. It also focuses a lot on creating relationships of trust between users, so that outside of therapy they continue to have the support that this implies for them. Finally, recognition, cognitive stimulation, attention and memory exercises are carried out transversally every day.

What do you think is the best exercise for their rehabilitation?

I do not believe that there is one key exercise that covers all the needs of this group because despite trying to be as homogeneous as possible, there is great intersubject variability. However, all the complete sessions are designed to cover the therapeutic objectives of all the users in  the group. In the case of people with acquired brain injury, three of the moments where we usually work those goals are the greeting and the farewell, in addition to the moment in which they give water to the dog. In these three moments of therapy we always work on communication, expression of emotions, mobility of the upper limbs and memory (as we ask if they remember what we did in the previous session).

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