Environmental Enrichment to Promote Neuroplasticity and Prevent Cognitive Decline After Acquired Brain Injury

*Disclaimer: the information on this site is intended as general information only and does not serve as personal medical or therapeutic advice. Use with caution and consult a medical professional familiar with your case beforehand.

**Please note that this blog post is an adaptation of a presentation I created for NeuroRestorative.

The treatment of brain injuries has come a long way in the past 20-30 years and yet even today’s science remains limited when it comes to reversing and preventing the signs and symptoms we see post- moderate to severe brain injury. As a rehabilitation professional I often face questions from the care partners, family members and friends of persons living with brain injuries regarding ways they can help support the health and recovery of that person. Often I am hearing these questions in the first days, weeks, and months post-injury, but this concept is just as important in the years following a brain-injury because while we traditionally think of brain injuries as a one-time injury that either stays the same or gets better over time, more recent research suggests that chronic brain injury is actually a progressive condition. 

As rehab professionals working with neurologic conditions we spend a great deal of time learning about evidence-based treatment techniques for minimizing spasticity, improving gait, maximizing outcomes and so forth. We do our best to engage the patient’s support system in helping them perform a home exercise program and making sure they get to their appointments consistently but what if there was more we could recommend? What if there were changes and modifications that could be made in the living environment, whether that be a house, inpatient rehabilitation facility or long-term care facility, that could support their recovery and prevent later cognitive and functional decline for persons with brain injuries? Turns out…there is!


Like most of the conditions we treat, no two brain injuries are alike. Brain injuries can be traumatic or nontraumatic in origin. They can be focal (localized) or diffuse (spread out). They can be caused by bleeding in the brain, loss of oxygen to brain tissue, a tumor compressing brain tissue, infection and more. Their effects are dependent on the location of the injury and available medical treatments to ameliorate the damage to the nerves in the brain. While we would expect that the impairments associated with a brain injury would be progressive in the case of a growing tumor or a spreading infection, we may not think about the progression of symptoms following a stroke or traumatic brain injury where the damage is usually contained to the area of initial injury. 

Within the last ten years, however, scientific research is suggesting that a traumatic brain injury is actually just the starting point of an ongoing physiologic process and is increasingly being understood as a progressive disorder. Imaging studies over time reveal reductions in brain volume and white matter integrity beyond what would be expected to occur after scarring and edema reduction are complete. This subacute deterioration may be linked to deterioration in functional and behavioral outcomes in the years after the initial injury. Individuals who have experienced a moderate to severe TBI also have a higher incidence of developing neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s. 

So what we glean from this information is that while our initial efforts may be placed on recovery and rehabilitation, we cannot forget that interventions aimed at slowing or minimizing this subacute deterioration should also be considered. Since there is a good chance an individual will not be undergoing continuous rehabilitation after their injury, it is important that we educate caregivers and care partners on steps they can take to combat this progression. This brings us to one area of their care that can be modified–the environment.

Tomaszczyk et al., 2014 note that: 

Outside of an intensive rehabilitation program, persons with TBI experience  increased idle time, boredom, and little-to-no engagement in meaningful activities. (Turner et al. 2009; Turner et al. 2007; Frasca et al. 2013). They found that persons with TBI are often isolated from former professional and social networks,  often less socially engaged, feel socially isolated and lonely, and may not be able to resume their previously challenging work activities. (Bulinski 2010; Morton and Wehman 1995). Similarly, physical barriers (e.g., accessibility) and poor communication skills serve to compound already reduced community and social integration (Fleming et al. 2013; Struchen et al. 2011). 

With reduction in leisure activities after a TBI, we see an associated increases in television watching

Reduced schedules of activity in moderate to severe TBI patients have been shown to be associated with poorer neural outcomes. 

Since the schedule of activity and surrounding environment is largely under voluntary control of parents, family, care partners, caregivers, rehab staff, etc…this is one thing we can modify, even into the chronic stages of injury, not just immediately after, to help ensure better long term outcomes for these individuals. 


In the research paradigm, environmental enrichment (EE) refers to a multifaceted form of housing that provides enhanced motor, cognitive, sensory and social stimulation. In animal studies this often includes a living environment with a variety of tunnels, toys and nesting materials that are changed regularly to maintain novelty versus a standard environment with just a couple of things that never change. The theory behind EE is that brains in richer, more stimulating environments have higher rates of synaptogenesis. Animal studies like the ones below provide evidence that EE positively effects outcomes after acquired brain injuries in rats:

So, we know that animals are benefiting from an enriched environment, but how does this relate to brain injuries in humans?

While we usually think about neuroplasticity in a positive light–this is how we promote recovery and compensation–it can also be negative. Several researchers have concluded that negative neuroplastic changes secondary to disuse contributes to chronic cognitive and neural decline. Because a person with a brain injury may be unable or not have ample opportunities to participate in activities that are as stimulating as you and I engage in, neuroplasticity begins working against them.

In the brain, the hippocampus is the center for learning and memory and imaging studies are showing atrophy in this area is correlated to the number of hours of EE a person experiences in the first year post-TBI and that engagement in the simple routines that many of these patients may adopt post-injury are not challenging enough to prevent that hippocampal volume loss. 


While there is pretty robust evidence for EE in animal studies, the human research studies are ongoing and more limited. I will present a few research studies below that outline some different EE paradigms created for human research but I want to start off by acknowledging the limitations of some of these studies. In order to determine that a particular intervention consistently produces a certain outcome, several things need to occur across multiple research studies. In EE studies, we need to see larger but fairly homogenous groups of participants post-TBI receiving similar types and dosing of EE across multiple settings and different time frames. What you will see below and which was highlighted in the Cochrane Review published in 2021 by Qin et al., is that the heterogeneity between studies at this point does not allow for conclusive recommendations for the application of EE in a population of brain-injured clients. Does this mean that EE is not helpful and we should not implement any of these strategies? No, not at this point. To my knowledge there is not evidence that these interventions are harmful or that they do not work, but we have not had enough of the right types of studies to prove with statistics exactly which aspects of EE are critical for enhancing brain plasticity and what dosing is optimal. 


One of the things I liked the most about the Jantz (2020) and Kumar & Galloway (2021) studies is that they highlight how these interventions can be applied by non-rehab professionals. While installing an overhead track system (Kumar & Galloway, 2021) may not be feasible for all homes, it underscored how creating opportunities for these adults to participate in self-selected standing activities within their home positively impacted several other mobility and social outcomes. 

Jantz (2020) also showed how goals and impairments identified by a rehab professional were used to create enrichment activities that could be implemented by non-rehab staff and family members. In this scenario the school children got to perform novel and salient activities which actually resulted in better long-term outcomes than just performing pencil push-ups, for example, over and over. 

So how can we take the somewhat limited research and apply it with our clientele, residents, patients and family members? Here are some tips:

As you can see, implementing EE strategies will take some time and should be an effort by all those involved in the person’s care, not just rehab professionals. Taking the time to find out what activities are salient to the target clients is essential and being flexible and responsive to how these are working on a daily basis is important. 


If you are excited about implementing some of these strategies at your facility or to begin educating family members and caregivers of those with brain injuries about them, here are some things to take into consideration. As we talked about in the beginning, every brain injury is different and when it comes to moderate to severe brain injuries, tolerance to new, novel and intense activities can vary from person to person and from day to day. These are some things to evaluate when determining which activities to select and when it may be time to take a break:

  • Fatigue
  • Overstimulation
  • Understimulation
  • Behavioral
  • Cognitive and Motor impairments
  • Vision impairments
  • Hearing Impairments 


As with all interventions, it is important that we acknowledge the potential barriers to implementation as it will allow us to problem-solve and prepare. Some common barriers to implementing EE are as follows:

  • Staffing or availability of persons to help
  • Budgeting
  • Space limitations
  • Meeting the needs of many individuals
  • Physical and cognitive barriers to participation
  • Lack of awareness or training of staff and family members/care partners
  • Access to transportation and equipment
  • Lack of specifics around dosing and which EE strategies are best
  • Family support 

If you’ve managed to make it this far, I hope this information gets the wheels turning about how we can further our reach and effectiveness as rehab professionals and care partners for persons with brain injuries. I am excited to see how this area of research continues to evolve over time and whether we can narrow down the dosing and interventions that will be most effective for limiting the progression of a chronic acquired brain injury. 


Belchev, Z., Boulos, M. E., Rybkina, J., Johns, K., Jeffay, E., Colella, B., Ozubko, J., Bray, M. J. C., di Genova, N., Levi, A., Changoor, A., Worthington, T., Gilboa, A., & Green, R. (2021). Remotely delivered environmental enrichment intervention for traumatic brain injury: Study protocol for a randomised controlled trial. BMJ Open, 11(2), e039767. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2020-039767

Bondi, C. O., Klitsch, K. C., Leary, J. B., & Kline, A. E. (2014). Environmental Enrichment as a Viable Neurorehabilitation Strategy for Experimental Traumatic Brain Injury. Journal of Neurotrauma, 31(10), 873–888. https://doi.org/10.1089/neu.2014.3328

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Briones, T. L., Woods, J., & Rogozinska, M. (2013). Decreased neuroinflammation and increased brain energy homeostasis following environmental enrichment after mild traumatic brain injury is associated with improvement in cognitive function. Acta Neuropathologica Communications, 1(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/2051-5960-1-57

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Jantz, P. B. (2020). Implementing environmental enrichment strategies to help children who have sustained a moderate or severe traumatic brain injury. Support for Learning, 35(3), 276–297. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9604.12310

Khan, F., Amatya, B., Elmalik, A., Lowe, M., Ng, L., Reid, I., & Galea, M. (2016). An enriched environmental programme during inpatient neuro-rehabilitation: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, 48(5), 417–425. https://doi.org/10.2340/16501977-2081

Kumar, D. S., & Galloway, J. C. (2021). Feasibility of a home-based environmental enrichment paradigm to enhance purposeful activities in adults with traumatic brain injury: a case series. Disability and Rehabilitation, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1080/09638288.2020.1868583

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Matter, A. M., Folweiler, K. A., Curatolo, L. M., & Kline, A. E. (2011). Temporal Effects of Environmental Enrichment–Mediated Functional Improvement After Experimental Traumatic Brain Injury in Rats. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair, 25(6), 558–564. https://doi.org/10.1177/1545968310397206

McDonald, M. W., Hayward, K. S., Rosbergen, I. C. M., Jeffers, M. S., & Corbett, D. (2018). Is Environmental Enrichment Ready for Clinical Application in Human Post-stroke Rehabilitation? Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00135

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The Neurologic Screen: what to test, why to test it and when to do it

Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

*Disclaimer: the information on this site is intended as general information only and does not serve as personal medical or therapeutic advice. Use with caution and consult a medical professional familiar with your case beforehand.

If you work in pediatric therapy, OP neuro rehab, acute care or inpatient rehabilitation settings you will most likely find yourself needing to do elements of a neuro screen during your evaluations. Even if you decided well before you graduated PT school that you would never work with neurologic patients and you were going to dedicate your career to sports and orthopedic rehab you will undoubtedly encounter scenarios in which you need to do at least some elements of the neurologic screen. If you haven’t ever encountered this, there is a good chance you missed out on an important opportunity to screen for neurologic impairments in at least some of your patients. Unlike a neurologic examination/evaluation that many of us perform on a patient with a known neurologic condition, I consider the neurologic screen to be a tool that helps inform therapists whether the nervous system may be involved in a patient that does not have a known neurologic condition, to help differentially diagnose an impairment that may be undiagnosed or unrecognized or to provide valuable information about nervous system function that could impact the plan of care.

Despite our comprehensive education in physical therapy school, I bet all practicing therapists have been faced with the reality that unless you use a particular area of knowledge or skill pretty regularly, you lose your familiarity and comfort with it pretty quickly. Nothing to be ashamed of, we can’t be experts in everything, but having a basic comfort with the elements of the neuro screen will go a long way in helping therapists create a more comprehensive and effective plan of care and also help identify patients that need to be referred back to their doctors for more testing or medical care. Also, so it doesn’t seem as though I’m just picking on the ortho therapists out there, Neuro Folks, if you aren’t screening your patients for and addressing their orthopedic problems, you’re missing an important piece also!

What’s in a Neuro Screen?

**Alright, quick forewarning here that this is not a completely comprehensive outline of every possible neurologic test you can perform on your patient. You can find that in your neuro rehab textbook.

Performing a good neuro screen requires both an understanding of the purpose of each neurologic test and measure and an ability to determine when to use what test. As a student physical therapist or novice clinician, the clinical reasoning process often involves administering a lot of subjective and objective outcome measures, looking at the results for anything that suggests an impairment or functional limitation then deriving a PT diagnosis and plan of care based on the results of those tests. As clinicians gain experience they often draw very heavily on their understanding of injury and disease and their past patient experiences to make hypotheses that allow them to immediately narrow down the tests and measures they believe will be most pertinent.

If you aren’t as comfortable with the myriad of neurologic screening tools out there and haven’t worked with that population of patients for a long time or very often, use the information below as a jumping off point for selecting tests that should help you recognize how the neurologic and neuromuscular systems are impacted in your patients.

Should I throw the kitchen sink at them?

If you are lucky enough to work in a magical PT clinic where you can spend 2 hours evaluating your patient on the first day then by all means, have at it. If you don’t work in inpatient rehab and you don’t happen to work in a setting that allows for much longer 1:1 sessions with the therapist then you need to be selective and judicious when structuring your exams.

Scenario 1: Patient arrives with a known neurologic diagnosis (Stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Neuropathy, etc.)

Approach: Use your knowledge about the patient’s injury or condition and the impairments and activity/participation limitations commonly associated with that injury/condition to select your tests/measures. For example, if your patient has neuropathy you would expect that motor and/or sensory systems may be affected so sensation and strength testing would be appropriate. If your patient had a stroke, you might expect changes in muscle tone as well as strength and sensation so you would screen these areas.

Because you do not have time to perform every test in the book, focus on the elements that provide information that will impact your treatment and prognosis. For example, reflex testing certainly provides valuable information about the state of the nervous system following a stroke but if the results don’t change your plan of care then they wouldn’t be my top priority.

Scenario 2: Patient arrives with a known diagnosis that you would not consider to be neurologic in nature but their history or your observation suggests the neurologic system could be contributing to their complaints

Approach: Something in your subjective or objective exam has prompted you to think that this could be neurologic in nature. In this scenario I would start by selecting tests that point to abnormalities in neurologic function such as sensation testing which could point to a dermatomal pattern of sensation loss, for example, coordination testing which can indicate cerebellar involvement, reflex testing which can help distinguish between an upper or lower motor nerve disorder, myotome testing which can indicate spinal nerve involvement or pathologic reflexes like Babinski or Hoffman’s that indicate loss of cortical inhibition and an upper motor nerve lesion.

Scenario 3: Patient arrives with a known neurologic diagnosis but your well-honed spidey-senses suspect they could have been misdiagnosed or there could be a secondary problem happening

Approach: What about this patient’s presentation has led you to believe their is more to this picture than the diagnosis they walked in with? Use this information to select your tests and measures. For example, I once evaluated a patient who had been treated for Guillain Barre Syndrome in the hospital and inpatient rehab and came to my outpatient clinic about 5 months later. On initial evaluation they presented with severe extensor tone and spasticity in the right lower extremity. This gave me pause because GBS is a lower motor neuron disorder while spasticity is an upper motor neuron sign. This finding prompted me to examine the patient further and refer them for more imaging which revealed they had been misdiagnosed and actually had either Transverse Myelitis or Multiple Sclerosis.

In these cases it is a good time to whip out your cranial nerve screens, tone assessments, pathological reflex testing, deep tendon reflex testing, coordination testing and vestibular testing among others to see if you can garner additional information that may indicate the patient should be referred back to their provider for further testing.

Many Tests to Choose From

Now that you have an idea of how to select what body structure/function you want to examine, here is a list of some helpful tests and measures that you can use to inform your plan of care. Please note this list does not include functional outcome measures that assess things like balance, gait or functional strength as I consider those to have a different purpose than a neurologic screen.

Cranial Nerve Screen

Purpose: used to identify lesions of the cranial nerves which can help localize pathology, identify areas that may impact patient response to therapy and recovery or prompt a referral to another provider for treatment.

Sensory Screen:

Purpose: localize lesion, assess protective sensation, monitor the extent of neurologic recovery or disease progression; prognosticate functional outcomes

Basic sensory screen for impairments in light touch, sharp/dull, temperature and vibration can indicate location of lesion:


  • Dermatomal pattern of sensory loss: indicates which spinal levels and tracts are involved
    • Light touch: Ventral Spinothalamic Tract of spinal cord 
    • Pain (pin prick): Lateral Spinothalamic Tract of spinal cord
    • Temperature: Lateral Spinothalamic Tract of spinal cord
    • Proprioception: Dorsal Column of spinal cord
    • Vibration: Dorsal Column of spinal cord
  • Peripheral nerve distribution: indicates an injury or lesion to a particular peripheral sensory nerve
  • Stocking glove pattern: usually consistent with peripheral neuropathy in which nerves are affected based on length of axon and not specific branches of nerves
  • Larger areas affected on one side such as entire leg, arm, face: often points to upper motor nerve lesions involving multiple levels of the spinal cord or the sensory cortex of the brain

Cortical Sensory Testing assesses the function of the sensory association areas of the parietal lobe

  • Stereognosis
  • Graphesthesia
  • Two point discrimination
  • Localization of touch

**Clinical pearl: if you observe a patient walking unsteadily with wide base of support, possibly stomping the ground they may have a sensory ataxia caused by loss of sensation in their feet and legs. Sensation testing should help pick this up and symptoms will worsen significantly in the dark or with eyes closed.

Reflex Testing

Purpose: Deep Tendon Reflexes: assesses muscle stretch reflex and can be localized to specific nerve roots. Hyperreflexia can indicate an upper motor nerve lesion while hypo– or arreflexia can indicate a lower motor nerve lesion

  • Pathologic Reflexes
    • Hoffman’s Reflex: positive Hoffman’s sign (adduction and flexion of the thumb and flexion of the index finger) is suggestive of cortocospinal tract dysfunction in the cervical spinal cord
    • Babinski: positive Babinski (extension of the great toe and splaying of the other toes) is suggestive of a corticospinal tract dysfunction
    • Clonus: rhythmic and oscillating stretch reflex, form of hyperreflexia and indicative of an upper motor neuron lesion

Muscle Tone Assessment

Purpose: Assess the muscle’s response to passive stretch. Lower motor neuron lesions reduce muscle tone while upper motor lesions increase muscle tone

  • Hypertonicity: umbrella term that refers to an increased resistance to passive stretch
    • Includes spasticity, rigidity, dystonia, co-contraction, clonus
  • Spasticity: specifically refers to velocity-dependent resistance to passive stretch
    • Can measure with the Modified Ashworth Scale or the Tardieu 

Coordination Testing

Purpose: usually considered to be a window into cerebellar function so abnormalities in these tests are concerning for cerebellar dysfunction.

    • Rapid Alternating Movement: alternating pronation/supination or ankle plantarflexion/dorsiflexion–the cerebellum controls the ability to perform one movement quickly followed by its opposite. Impairment in this function is called dysdiadochokinesis (if you can spell this word correctly without looking it up, you are my hero).
    • Finger to Nose: measures upper extremity coordination. During this test you may observe
      • Dysmetria: misjudging the target (hypo vs hypermetric movements)
      • Intention tremor 
      • Dyssynergia: refers to breakdown of movement, often see the movement broken in to several smaller movements
      • Ataxia: refers to abnormal coordination of movement
    • Heel to Shin: lower extremity coordination, may be dysmetric (missing target) or generally ataxic

**Clinical pearl: be aware that vision, executive function, cognition, strength and motor control can all play a role in being able to perform these coordination tests well and may confuse the results. Speeding up the movement can unmask coordination impairments

Myotome Testing

Purpose: Weakness is a common complaint in patients receiving physical therapy and may be due to numerous causes. Keep your eye out, however, for patterns of weakness that fall into a myotome pattern as this indicates spinal nerve involvement.

Vestibular and Oculomotor Screen

These tests are most often performed in the context of complaints of dizziness or disequilibrium and in patients with a known neurologic condition. However, if you have a familiarity with some of these tests you may be able to pick up on an issue that may be pertinent to their care and need further evaluation by a specialist. There is a whole litany of tests available to you to differentiate between possible causes of symptoms but these tests may help to at least determine if more in depth assessment is warranted.

Oculomotor Screen: these impairments may manifest as blurry vision, double vision, difficulty reading, impaired eye movements, dizziness, headaches, etc.

    • Smooth pursuit: measures the eyes ability to smoothly track a moving object while the head remains in place. Also allows assessment of strength and function of the ocular muscles. Saccadic intrusions, meaning the movement is broken down into several smaller movements suggests central pathology.
    • Saccades: the ability of the eye to move quickly and accurately from one target to another. Impairments typically suggest cerebellar disorder
    • Convergence: the ability to adduct the eyes and view a near-target object without double vision. Normal convergence is 6-10cm. Doubling of vision before 10cm can be suggestive of a concussion, a cerebellar or brainstem injury or an impairment in eye muscle function

Vestibular Screen: these impairments are often accompanied by dizziness, vertigo, disequilibrium, falls, nausea, disorientation, feeling like you or the world is moving

    1. Vestibular-Ocular Reflex (VOR): the ability to maintain eyes locked on an unmoving target while the head is moving. Use a metronome set at 2Hz and have patient perform oscillations of the head in the sagittal and then transverse plane about 30 deg to each side while locking eyes on a small target about arm’s length away. If they experience symptoms of dizziness, nausea or headache, double vision or blurring then this indicates likely VOR impairment.
    2. Head Impulse Test: failure to maintain eyes locked on therapist’s nose while quickly turning the head to one side suggests peripheral vestibular dysfunction.
    3. VOR cancellation: reflects the ability to suppress VOR and turn eyes and head in same direction at same rate. Normal: eyes maintained in center of orbit while head and eyes track an object moving across the visual field. ABNORMAL: eye cannot track at same rate and will not remain in center of orbit which suggests cerebellar dysfunction.
    4. Nystagmus assessment
      • Positional nystagmus: test with Dix-Hallpike, Roll test or Sidelying Test (Semant Diagnostic Maneuver). NOTE–central causes of positional nystagmus do exist and will not respond to canalith repositioning
      • Spontaneous Nystagmus: occurs from imbalance in vestibular signals being sent to oculomotor nerves. Leads to constant drift of eyes to one direction with brief corrections back the other way. Occurs after acute vestibular loss  
          • Peripheral lesion: fixing gaze on stable object will stop nystagmus, typically resolves within 24 hours.
          • Central: nystagmus persists with fixation on nonmoving object
      • Peripheral Nystagmus characteristics:
        • Direction fixed and dominantly horizontal
        • Suppressed with visual fixation
        • More likely to be exacerbated when looking in direction of fast component
      • Central Nystagmus characteristics
        • Direction changing, more likely to be purely vertical or torsional
        • Not diminished with fixation
        • May be accompanied by one of the “D” symptoms: Diplopia, dysarthria, dysphagia, drop attacks, dyskinesia/ataxia (and muscle weakness on one side).

Put it into Practice

Now that you have a sense of what tests are available and what their results mean, keep an eye out for opportunities to practice them. Continuing education, online modules, textbooks and phone-a-neuro-therapist-friend are all great ways to build your confidence and knowledge in this area.

Dizziness and COVID-19

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As the COVID-19 virus and its ever evolving variants continue to infect, at times, hundreds of thousands of people a day worldwide, medical professionals and sufferers of the disease are still working to put together a comprehensive list of typical signs and symptoms. Two clinical manifestations that have arisen and distinguish the COVID-19 virus from many other respiratory viruses are the symptoms of dizziness and vertigo. 

Drs. Saniasiaya and Kulaseharah wrote in the Ear, Nose and Throat Journal in September of 2020 that dizziness has proven to be a “notable clinical manifestation among COVID-19 patients” (Saniasiaya, MD, MMED & Kulasegarah, MB Bch, BAO, MD, 2020). Several causative mechanisms were proposed amongst doctors and researchers but all agreed that when dizziness and vertigo are present, it is important to consider possible causes such as acute labyrinthitis, vestibular neuritis, acute otitis media or even secondary to stroke caused by COVID-19. Each of these potential causes of vertigo and dizziness require their own assessment and treatment by a healthcare professional.

Vestibular neuritis, for example, a condition in which the vestibular nerve that supplies the inner ear organs becomes inflamed, can cause severe (though typically temporary) dizziness and vertigo, feelings of imbalance and nausea. Recovery times can vary from days to months. In a case series published in the Le Infezioni in Medicina journal in March 2021 the authors describe 6 cases in which female patients with known or suspected COVID-19 infections experienced severe dizziness that was later diagnosed as vestibular neuritis (Malayala et al., 2021). The mechanism of this manifestation may be similar to the causes of other symptoms of COVID infection such as loss of smell, changes in vision and changes in the vascular system but can have a lasting impact on some people even once the initial infection seems to have resolved.  While the symptoms may be initially severe, treatment with medications to manage symptoms of nausea and dizziness and decrease inflammation are typical in the acute phase while physical therapy and vestibular rehabilitation can help immensely for any persisting symptoms.

How do I know if I need vestibular rehab?

Vestibular rehabilitation focuses on improving the effectiveness of our vestibular system, the sensory organs in our body that transmit information about how our head is oriented and moving in space. The vestibular system is one of three sensory systems in our body that help us to balance. The second system is the somatosensory system which consists of sensory nerves in the joints and skin, which transmit information such as whether you are standing with your feet flat on the ground or if part of your foot is lifted. The third system is our visual system. Our eyes reference the environment around us to understand better how our body is oriented in space. 

When the vestibular system is affected by an infection such as in vestibular neuritis, an injury like a concussion, or even when small crystals in the inner ear organs get displaced (a condition called BPPV), individuals can become over reliant on the other two sensory systems and sometimes that can persist, “uncompensated” for long periods of time. 

In these cases one might be left with persistent feelings of imbalance, dizziness and disequilibrium. Suddenly closing your eyes in the shower becomes a fight to keep from falling, turning your head to look at traffic while riding in the car makes your head spin and the thought of going on a hike makes you nervous for your safety. Not to worry though, a physical therapist who is experienced in vestibular rehabilitation can assess your symptoms and prescribe exercises to help reduce your residual symptoms and help to restore your function. In many cases the vestibular system can be trained to perform at a higher level again. There is no need to keep living with these symptoms long term!

So if you or someone you know is experiencing severe dizziness along with any of the other known symptoms of COVID (ie. sore throat, fever, cough, etc.), talk to your doctor about what treatment options are available to help reduce your symptoms quickly and to rule out more serious causes of dizziness like a stroke. If you find yourself struggling to get back to normal after COVID and are feeling off balance or dizzy, seek care from an experienced physical therapist and they will help get you back on the road to full recovery! 


Malayala, S. V., Mohan, G., Vasireddy, D., & Atluri, P. (2021). A case series of vestibular symptoms in positive or suspected COVID-19 patients. Le Infezioni in Medicina, 29(1), 117-122. https://www.infezmed.it/index.php/article?Anno=2021&numero=1&ArticoloDaVisualizzare=Vol_29_1_2021_117

Saniasiaya, MD, MMED, J., & Kulasegarah, MB Bch, BAO, MD, J. (2020, September 15). Dizziness and COVID-19. Ear Nose and Throat Journal, 100(1), 29-30. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0145561320959573

Multiple Sclerosis, Your Bladder and Physical Therapy?

Guest Post By Dr. Ashley Rawlins, Physical Therapist


Inspire Pelvic Health

Let’s talk about urinary incontinence! I know, you may not want to talk about it, but I bet you are curious to learn about it. Urinary incontinence (UI), or bladder leakage, is all too common in those with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). There are areas in the brain, brain stem and spinal cord which work together to control urinary function, so if MS affects any of these specific areas, then communication regarding urination is disrupted, and urinary dysfunction results. Urinary dysfunction is seen in up to 90% of persons with MS1, and 80-100% of those with urinary dysfunction, report UI symptoms2. It’s common, it’s frustrating, it significantly impacts your quality of life3, and if experiencing any balance or vision difficulties, then rushing to the bathroom to prevent leakage may increase your risk for fall related injuries4. I often hear that patients feel this is a difficult topic to discuss with their healthcare providers, so I wanted to bring it up for you in order to demystify, destigmatize, clarify and bring a bit of confidence to seek out the help you need and deserve. 

Did you know that there are physical therapists (PT) out there who specialize in the treatment of UI? That’s where I come in. I am a pelvic health physical therapist, and I specialize in the treatment of neuromuscular and musculoskeletal dysfunction in the abdominal and pelvic areas. This includes bladder dysfunction.

In the normally functioning urinary system, urine is made and emptied into the bladder where it is comfortably stored without leaking until it is full and convenient to empty. Bladder emptying should be easy, pain-free and for the most part, complete. You should be able to comfortably hold urine, and void once every 3-5 hours during the day, and up to one time at night. Urinary function is controlled by a part of our nervous system called the autonomic nervous system, and is largely an unconscious function. It seems simple enough, but the physiology of micturition (the behind the scene workings of emptying your bladder) is complex. When there is disruption to this process, then “urinary dysfunction” can occur. 

Here is a simplified version of what should occur without interruption during normal urinary function:

  • Blood circulates through your kidneys, and the product of this normal filtration process is urine.
  • The urine is then emptied from the kidneys into the bladder, a hollow organ that sits behind the pubic bone, via the ureters.
  • The bladder happily fills with urine without us even sensing it, but at a certain threshold, usually around 200 mL of urine, neurologic signals are sent up the spinal cord to a control center in the brain stem, the Pontine Micturition Center (PMC), and you start to feel like maybe you could go to the bathroom. This “first sensation” is usually easily ignored, and the brain tells the bladder to keep quiet, keep filling for now, and sends a signal back down the spinal cord to do so.
  • Once your bladder has filled to about 400 mL, it becomes a lot harder to ignore. The signal is once again sent up the spinal cord, to the brain stem, and you and your brain agree not to put it off any longer. You make your way to the bathroom, sit down, relax your pelvic floor muscles (more on those late), and then unconsciously the urethral sphincters relax, the muscle around your bladder (detrusor) contracts, and urine is eliminated via the urethra, out of the body.
  • The process continues all day, every day.

Urinary Incontinence and Multiple Sclerosis

When there is a wrench in this system somewhere, UI can occur. Urinary incontinence is the involuntary loss of urine. It is by far the most commonly seen urinary dysfunction in physical therapy. There are three main categories of UI depending on the symptoms you may have: stress urinary incontinence (SUI), urge urinary incontinence (UUI) or mixed urinary incontinence (MUI). Each type of UI may have different contributory factors, aggravating factors and treatment approaches. 

  • Stress urinary incontinence: The involuntary loss of urine because of pressure/physical exertion. For example, urine is lost after sneezing, coughing, laughing, jumping, running, etc. 
  • Urge urinary incontinence: The involuntary loss of urine associated with a strong urge to urinate. This can be a small amount of leakage, or a total loss of the bladder contents5.
  • Mixed urinary incontinence: The involuntary loss of urine associated with stress and/or an urge5.

The causes of SUI can be multifactorial. Common contributing factors include pelvic floor muscle weakness, poor pelvic muscle coordination, urethral deficiencies, detrusor muscle overactivity, poor diet or hydration, constipation, or bad lifestyle habits which make leakage worse. When you have MS, the disease process can complicate these factors. When MS leads to damage of the myelin in the parts of the brain, brain stem, or spinal cord which contribute to urinary function, then the messages regarding urination get disrupted. Your physician is always the first line of defense for examining what medically is contributing to urinary dysfunction, when you have multiple sclerosis. There are many wonderful treatment options including medications, intermittent self-catheterization, nerve stimulation and surgical interventions6. The National MS Society is a good resource for further information on these treatment options, and can be found here. In addition to the neurologic dysfunction that is contributing to bladder symptoms there are behavioral and lifestyle factors, and/or muscle dysfunctions that can worsen bladder symptoms. This is where physical therapy can be really helpful. 

How Physical Therapy Can Help Your Bladder:

There are important muscles and nerves that help your bladder function. With urinary incontinence, we are typically taking a closer look at the function of the muscles and nerves in the abdomen and pelvic floor.

The pelvic floor refers to the group of muscles, nerves and fascia which form a basket at the base of the pelvis. These muscles make up several layers, and run from the pubic bone to the tailbone, left and right between the two sit bones, and encircle and support the bladder, the bowel, the uterus and the vagina in cis females, and the prostate and penis in cis males. When contracted, the pelvic floor muscles draw up and provide a “lift” of your organs towards your head, and they bring the tailbone and pubic bone inwards towards your center, assisting in closure of the pelvic openings (urethra, vagina and rectum), and stability to your pelvic bones. 

Since these muscles are so important in the support and closure of bladder and urethra, then their optimal function is important to prevent urinary leakage. These muscles need to have sufficient strength, length and coordination to help support the complex function of urination. Pelvic physical therapists will work with you to accomplish this. For more information on the pelvic floor, check out this blog.

A pelvic physical therapist will examine the pelvic floor muscles in order to determine what is going on with each patient’s muscles. A good summary of what this examination may entail can be found here. Depending on the findings, physical therapists use a variety of techniques and exercises to decrease the impairments in the muscles and nerves that are affected. Some of the interventions you may see in physical therapy may include:

  • Pelvic floor muscle strengthening exercises: These exercises are more commonly knowns as Kegels but may also include strengthening exercises for muscles in the abdomen, hips, and thighs as imbalance in the muscles in the surrounding areas of the pelvic floor muscles, may also have an adverse effect on urinary incontinence.
  • Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES): Electrical stimulation is provided to the pelvic floor muscles, either trans-vaginally or trans-rectally. The exact mechanism of how NMES improves UI is not known, but it is thought that the stimulation either helps to encourage pelvic floor muscle contraction or curbs the detrusor contractions to reduce the overactivity of the bladder7.
  • Electromyography (EMG) Biofeedback: An instrument-based tool that teaches a person how effectively they are using the muscles, using auditory and visual feedback8. In EMG Biofeedback, the muscle activity is measured using external sensors, and displayed for the person to see. This can be helpful in teaching a person how to contract or relax a muscle, depending on what is needed for that individual9.
  • Hydration and diet management: Typically, this consists of optimizing hydration status since drinking too much or too little can make incontinence worse, and diet modification since certain foods can irritate the bladder leading to increased leakage as well.
  • Constipation management
  • Lifestyle strategies: This may include bladder training, techniques to modulate the autonomic nervous system

In persons with MS and urinary incontinence, it is common to see either pelvic floor muscles that are weak and underactive, tight and overactive, muscles that lack coordination, a bladder muscle (detrusor muscles) that is over reactive, or any combination of these10. Physical therapy has been found to provide substantial decreases in urinary leakage, and significant improvements in the quality of life in persons with MS9. Physical therapy interventions such as those described are easy to do, have little to no side effects, and the rewards are significant9. So why not try it!

For more information on how pelvic health physical therapy can help you, check out these websites:

The Academy of Pelvic Health Physical Therapy

Pelvic Rehab

For help finding a qualified pelvic health physical therapist, you can find people in your area here and here.


  1. Aharony MS, Lam O, Corcos J. Evaluation of lower urinary tract symptoms in multiple sclerosis patients: Review of the literature and current guidelines. Can Urol Assoc J. 2017; 11(1-2): 61–64. Doi:  10.5489/cuaj.4058
  2. Tubaro A, Puccini F, De Nunzio C, Digesu GA, Elneil S, Gobbi C, Khullar V. Treatment of lower urinary tract symptoms in patient with multiple sclerosis: a systematic review. Curr Urol Rep. 2012; 13(5):335-42. Doi: 10.1007/s11934-012-0266-9 
  3. Litwiller SE, Frohman EM, Zimmern PE. Multiple sclerosis and the urologist. J Urol. 1999; 161(3):743-5.7.
  4. Block V, Rivera M, Melnick M, Allen D. Do physical therapy interventions affect urinary incontinence and quality of life in people with multiple sclerosis. International Journal of Ms Care. 2015; 17(4): 172-80. Doi: 10.7224/1537-2073.2014-031.
  5. Abrams P, Cardozo L, Fall M, Griffiths D, Rosier P, Ulmsten U, Van Kerrevroeck P, Victor A, Wein A. The standardization of terminology in lower urinary tract function: report from the standardization sub-committee of the international continence society. Urology.  61: 37-49. Doi: 10.1016/S0090-4295(02)02243-4.
  6. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Bladder Dysfunction. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Accessed 4/10/2021. https://www.nationalmssociety.org/For-Professionals/Clinical-Care/Managing-MS/Symptom-Management/Bladder-Dysfunction
  7. vanBalken MR, Vergunst H, Bemelmans BLH. The use of electrical devices for the treatment of bladder  dysfunction: a review of methods. J Urol. 2004; 172: 846-851.
  8. Lee HJ, Jung KW, Myung SJ. Technique of functional and motility test: how to perform biofeedback for constipation and fecal incontinence. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2013; 19: 532-537. 
  9. Alfarra N, Aldosary H, Almefleh S. Do physical therpay interventions improve urinary incontinence and quality of life in patient with multiple sclerosis: A systematic literature review. Phys Med Rehabil Res. 2019. 4:1-6. Doi: 10.15761/PMRR.1000204.
  10. DeRidder D, Vermeulen C, DeSmet F, et al. Clinical assessment of pelvic floor dysfunction in multiple sclerosis. Neruourol Urodyn. 1998;17:337-542.

Living Well with Multiple Sclerosis: the National MS Society website deep dive

If there is one thing I love about being a physical therapist it is being able to direct my patients and clients, their care partners and family members to resources that can make their lives better and easier, help them feel empowered and make them better self-advocates.

During a recent phone conversation with Molly Palmer, Manager of Healthcare Provider Engagement at the National MS Society I was guided to several areas of their website I hadn’t checked out before. If you or someone you care about is living with MS, here are just a few of the resources available to you through the National MS Society website:

Learn More about Multiple Sclerosis

These 3 highlighted sections can be found under the menu. These sections provide comprehensive information about:

What is Multiple Sclerosis

Signs and symptoms

How the disease is diagnosed

-Up to date information on latest medical treatments, which providers make up a comprehensive care team; information about rehabilitation and complementary and alternative medicine

Resources and Support

This section of the website is a literal goldmine.

Library and Education section is filled with helpful resources and accurate information about life with MS. Webinars with experts in MS research and care, patient summits, educational videos, book lists and resources for parents to talk to their kids about MS are just a few of the many resources available in this section

Find Support helps you connect with people who share common life experiences or similar goals. Links to support groups, ways to connect to one on one support and more can be found here

Advanced Care Needs: Despite great care, MS is a progressive disease and some people will continue to worsen over time. This section of the website provides a comprehensive long-term look at how to not only find the best care now but also how to plan for the future and what issues may need to be addressed as time goes on. For instance, in this section you can find guidance on financial planning for a life with MS, advice on deciding if transitioning to living outside of your home is the best option, links to a guide for support partners and much more

-Resources for Specific Populations provides information specifically for Veterans with Multiple Sclerosis and provides information about how the Veteran’s Administration can assist you in your care and provide you support

-Links to programs and services in your area

MS Navigator: MS resource gurus at your disposal

This section right here, the MS Navigator can be found within the Resources and Support section. When I found out this resource existed I was thrilled to share it with my own clients and the readers of this blog.

If you have a question about MS, need support, aren’t sure how to navigate the financial intricacies of life with MS, need modifications to your home and aren’t sure how to afford them, need assistance in applying for disability at your job, are looking for an advocate or maybe aren’t even sure yet all of the things that could be making your life easier, the MS Navigator is your shining beacon of help.

MS Navigators are highly skilled and trained, compassionate professionals who will partner with YOU to help you navigate your own unique journey with MS. These professionals can be reached either by calling this number: 1-800-344-4867 or through the website by clicking here.

Doctors and Resources Locator

This section allows to you search for many different types of care partners by location. Resources for independent living, doctors, rehabilitation specialists, housing, financial assistance and medical/assistive equipment are just a few of the things that can be accessed through this section.

Check it out here: Find Doctors and Resources

Living Well with MS

Living Well with MS highlights areas of life with MS that extend beyond medical care. For example, you can find evidence-based information about diet and exercise specific to the MS community, resources for emotional and spiritual well-being, information about maximizing cognitive health, managing relationships and maximizing participation in all of life’s activities

The Work, Home and Leisure section provides information about staying mobile, asking for reasonable accommodations and advocating for yourself in the workplace and information about recreation and travel.

Finally the Relationships section touches on topics such as how and when to disclose your diagnosis, strategies for parenting while living with MS, maintaining balance in your relationship and provides information about being a caregiver and caring for yourself.

Don’t Forget the Research

Progress in MS care is built on the cornerstone of evidence-based practice. In this area of the website you and your care partners, physicians, rehab specialists and others can find links to current clinical trials, access the latest research updates from around the world, learn about funding your own research projects and get to know more about why the National MS Society values research as a part of their own vision and mission.

Looking for a physical therapist in the Phoenix, AZ area who is board certified in Neurologic Physical Therapy and has had the pleasure of working with many persons with MS? Learn more about how you can work with me!

Dressing Aids

Though the pandemic may have many of us staying in our pajamas throughout the day there are still occasions to have us putting on some fancier clothes and when the time comes, there are many types of dressing aids available to help out.

*IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: this information is meant to alert you to the equipment that exists to help you but is not intended as a training module to use it safely. Please contact the manufacturer of each device or a qualified therapist/medical professional to help you select devices most appropriate to you and to teach you how to use it safely.

**This post may contain affiliate links from Amazon Associates or other affiliate programs through which I may earn a portion of qualifying purchases

Dressing Stick

The dressing stick is a long stick with hooks at either end. In this example the small hook on one end can hook onto zippers or shoelace loops while the larger end can help with pulling up pant legs, removing socks, and putting on shirts

RMS Deluxe 28 Inches Long Dressing Stick

Shoe Horn

Ahh the shoe horn, this simple long handled device slides in the back of the shoe to prevent that oh-so-annoying crumpling of the back of the shoe that happens when you try to slide your foot into it. They come in long and short versions that you can leave at home or carry with you.

Metal Shoe Horn Long Handle For Seniors, Set of 2

Shoe Funnel

Sometimes the shoe horn is not as simple and easy to use as the design implies. Some people find this device, the Foot Funnel Shoe Assist to be easier to use. This device slides over the back of your shoe then, after grabbing ahold of the strings, you can slide your foot in and pull up on the back. Cool, huh?

FootFunnel Shoe Assist by North Coast Medical

Sock Aid

Loss of grip or hand use, difficulty reaching down to your feet or even pain in the joints can make putting on socks tough. The sock aid spreads open the sock, allows you to slip your foot in and allows you to pull the sock up with greater ease.

The Don N’ Doffer:

This device may look daunting but it solves a common problem that many people who need to wear compression socks face: compression socks are hard as heck to get on. Even for someone with full strength and flexibility in their hands and legs pulling these suckers up is a workout. The Don and Doffer is a neat creation that actually slides the sock on very easily, saving you a ton of grief and hopefully increasing the likelihood that you will wear the socks as prescribed. This one can be a little tricky at first but their website has step by step instructions on how to use: Don N’ Doffer

Doff N’ Donner Combo Pack – Compression Stocking & Diabetic Sock Aid Kit

Button Hook

Loss of dexterity in the fingers can make buttons a real pain. Enter the button hook:

Button Hook Dressing Aids

The One Handed Bra

I don’t know about you guys but I’ve never been able to fasten a bra one-handed. There are definitely ways to do it and a quick internet video search will reveal some great how-to videos. However, I encourage you to take a look at The One Handed Bra. Bra Easy is an amazing Australia based company that developed beautiful and easy to don bras. They have a cool story and an even cooler product.


For anyone experiencing challenges with putting on or pulling up pants this nifty device holds open the pants, shorts or underwear and with the long handle allows you to reach it down toward your legs to place them in the openings then pull the garment up toward you. Note these come in different sizes!

Kinsman WingsPants Large

Clip and Pull Pants Assist 

Clips that attach to the waistband of underwear, shorts of pants can help with pulling them up from around your feet whether you are sitting, standing or lying down.

Clip and Pull Dressing Aid Strap – 2Pcs

Pants Up Easy

This innovative device was designed specifically for persons with spinal cord injury but might be useful for anyone who has difficulty standing to pull their pants up the final 25% of the way. This device can be installed on the wall or purchased as a stand-alone device that slips under your armpits so you can lift your hips out of your chair and still have hands free to pull up the pants. Check out their webpage here: Pants Up Easy

Mommas (and Dads!) on the Move

Photo by Kamaji Ogino on Pexels.com

There is no question that parenting is both tough and rewarding. One can feel overwhelmed by the endless amount of gadgets, furniture, clothing and other stuff that you have to consider buying once the new little one makes their grand entrance into the world. The internet, magazines and TV are bursting with colorful ads about the latest this or that which will make you and your little one’s life easier but lets face it, ableism is strongly at play when it comes to this industry and many people may feel at a loss as to how to adapt all these items to meet their own needs.

So what’s a parent (or sibling or babysitter or anyone else involved in childcare) to do when you can’t use both of your arms in the same way, can’t stand up to reach the changing table at its full height, use a wheelchair or crutches or a walker for mobility, have hearing or visual impairments? It may feel like the answers aren’t out there and it’s true that you have to look a little further than most but the good news is that smart and innovative people are out there working hard to solve this problem and I’m here to share some of the tools and products available to you!

**IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: this information is meant to alert you to the equipment that exists to help you but is not intended as a training module to use it safely. Please contact the manufacturer of each device or a qualified therapist/medical professional to help you select devices most appropriate to you and to teach you how to use it safely.

**This post may contain affiliate links from Amazon Associates or other affiliate programs through which I may earn a portion of qualifying purchases

Strolling Along

Let’s face it, pushing a stroller is basically a two-handed job. So what’s a person to do when walking along behind a stroller and pushing it with both arms just isn’t gonna happen?

The Stroll-Smart Hands-Free Adaptor pictured below attaches to your waist allowing you to push the stroller using your torso instead of your hands. This could be a great solution for someone who needs to use an assistive device like this woman below or if you aren’t able to steer the stroller well with one or both hands and want a little extra support.

For parents who are wheelchair users designers have come up with several innovative attachments that combine the stroller and the wheelchair into one unit so that parent’s can transport their child safely while seated in their wheelchair. Spinalcord.com just released a great article in December 2020 highlighting several different products that are available on the market right now.

Cursum Stroller

Carriers and Nursing Products

The Tushbaby Certified Hip Seat Baby Carrier is a helpful device that supports a baby’s bottom while you carry them on your hip. This is a great option if you lack the strength, muscle endurance or confidence in your arm for holding your baby this way. Let’s face it, babies are heavy and if you have to use your dominant arm to hold them and your nondominant arm isn’t as useful to perform secondary tasks this may give you an option for supporting them with the other arm so you can continue to have the preferred hand free to take care of other things.

Breastfeeding pillows typically secure around a woman’s waist so that she can nurse with less reliance on her hands but this could easily be used by other parents and caregivers while they are bottle feeding or just to support the baby while they sleep. This product for example, the My Brest Friend Original Nursing Posture Pillow gets points both for a clever name and also for its design!

Ring slings are a great option for hands-free carrying and also for breastfeeding. Whether sitting or standing these devices can support your baby comfortably and are great for wheelchair users, parents with any kind of wrist, hand or arm pain and anyone with weakness in their arms. The Hip Baby Wrap Ring Sling Baby Carrier for Infants and Toddlers is a great example. It is hand-woven from 100% cotton and has many great reviews on Amazon.

Wheelchair Accessible/Adjustable Height Cribs

Whether you have trouble bending down and lowering your child into a crib or can’t get close enough in your chair to reach them safely at all, the adjustable height/wheelchair accessible crib option is for you. The PediaLift is a great example of a crib that raises and lowers using a remote so that a wheelchair can slide underneath the crib or so that a parent or caregiver can transfer their baby safely and comfortable. With side access doors this crib eliminates the need to reach over the top of the railing. Gertie Cribs are another example of a height adjustable crib with side access doors that allow parents easier access to the crib mattress at the height that is most comfortable for them.

Car Seats

Transferring a baby or toddler into the carseat can be nearly impossible for some people if they can’t reach the front of the seat well. Some brands have tried to solve this problem by designing car seats with a swivel base. The CYBEX Sirona S Rotating Convertible Car Seat with SensorSafe 2.1 is just one example. Now I haven’t ever used this device so I am only making you aware of its existence but can’t vouch for it’s safety or effectiveness. Because these devices are so important for preventing serious injury while riding in the car it is important that you do your own research and consult your pediatrician to ensure this device is safe for your baby before purchasing.


Bathing. We all have to do it and for babies and infants they typically require a sink or infant bath to do so safely. The problem is, these methods are hardly accessible for anyone using a wheelchair or who has a hard time standing for a long period of time. I did a pretty extensive internet search assuming there must be some kind of accessible baby bath out there but I’m saddened to say I hit a dead end. How has no one invented this yet?? One genius and handy dad did share his DIY wheelchair accessible bathing station which just goes to show that there is still a lot of room to grow when it comes to adaptive parenting equipment.

Resources for Hearing and Visually Impaired Parents

Visually and hearing-impaired parents have been successfully raising children all over the world. Though they may need different strategies than others, where there is a will, there is a way. The National Federation for the Blind has a special section for Blind Parents filled with great resources including the Blind Parents Connection Podcast, helpful videos, a Blind Parents Mentoring Program and many more helpful tools.

Also, definitely check out The Deaf Mama blog written by a mom with hearing loss who, when faced with buying baby items that worked best for her, realized other moms and dads out there could benefit from her experience!

Parenting with an Intellectual Disability or Learning Disability

Parenting with an intellectual or learning disability is absolutely possible under the right circumstances and with the right supports and help in place. As every parent’s needs will be a little different it is important to have a good network of friends, family and professionals around you to help you identify where extra help and training may be needed and what services are available in your community to help you. The Arc is the largest national community-based organization advocating for and with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and serving them and their families. They are a fantastic resource on this topic and a great place to start is their guide for Parents with Intellectual Disabilities.

The Not So Secret Life of…Sex

Though a taboo subject in many communities, discussions around sex, sexuality and intimacy should not trigger feelings of shame or embarrassment. The truth is, sex, pleasure and intimacy are normal and healthy parts of life but many people, including persons with disabilities may not see themselves or their personal experience represented in typical narratives around sex in the media or even in education and schooling. Persons with disabilities, however, are sexual and express their sexuality in ways that are as diverse as anyone else.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Concern for sexual health among persons with disabilities needs to be a greater priority amongst educators and health care professionals. Lack of understanding around anatomy and physiology and the practical aspects of sexual function and sexual intimacy after a neurologic injury or when living with a neurologic disorder can often leave individuals feeling confused, frustrated or alienated. Additionally, the social-emotional aspects of this topic often go unaddressed. Though this is certainly not my specialty area and I am not an expert on sexual health and function, my work and research as a neurologic physical therapist has led me to many great resources that I think you will find helpful and inspiring!

*Post may contain affiliate links from Amazon Associates or other affiliate programs through which I may earn a portion of qualifying purchases

Online Resources for Sexual Function after Spinal Cord Injury

Craig Hospital Sexual Function for males after SCI

Craig Hospital Sexual function for females after SCI

Facingdisability.com is a website for families facing spinal cord injury. The website is extensive and absolutely worth checking out. Included on their webpage is a section on sex and fertility information. They cover gender-specific issues such as sexual function, aids, pregnancy and childbirth for women and erectile dysfunction, medications, fertility and more for men.

Books and Guides

Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness by Miriam Kaufman, M.D., Cory Silverberg and Fran Odette. This book is written by a sex educator, a disability advocate and a medical doctor to provide a wide reaching perspective on all aspects of sex for people living with disabilities, pain, chronic conditions or illnesses.

Pleasure ABLE Sexual Device Manual for Persons with Disabilities (2009) is a great resource I recommend for my own clients. Be aware that this manual contains anatomical images, pictures and descriptions of sex and descriptions and photos of devices and ideas to facilitate sex and intimacy. This manual is a great tool to learn about alternatives and modifications to what may be considered traditional methods of sexual intimacy and intercourse including examples of helpful devices, strategies for positioning and many other great tips. 

Other Helpful Websites

SEXABILITY Resources from the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services from the College of Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is an extensive list of books, websites and films. Subtopics include such things as Spectrum Disorders, Relationships and Sexuality, Physical disabilities and sexuality, and more.

A Neurologic Diagnosis Doesn’t Mean the End of Intimacy: Brain and Life Magazine (2016/2017). A publication of the American Academy of Neurology

Sex After Stroke: A resource published by the UK Stroke Association

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

Kitchen Hacks

Cooking, cleaning and preparing meals in the kitchen can pose unique challenges to anyone with mobility impairments or difficulty using their hands or arms. Sharp knives, unusually shaped fruits and vegetables and suddenly boiling pots keep you on your toes (or wheels) in the kitchen. Just because you don’t have full use of both hands, however, doesn’t mean you can’t be a whiz in the kitchen. It may take a bit more time to get the job done but with patience, ingenuity, help from a friend or family member on occasion, and the proper equipment, there will always be a place for you in the kitchen. 

While there are probably many more creative hacks to make time in the kitchen more efficient and enjoyable take a look at some of the options found below!

**IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: this information is meant to alert you to the equipment that exists to help you but is not intended as a training module to use it safely. Please contact the manufacturer of each device or a qualified therapist to help you select devices most appropriate to you and to teach you how to use it safely.

**This post may contain affiliate links from Amazon Associates or other affiliate programs through which I may earn a portion of qualifying purchases


Rocker knife: The T-Grip Rocker Knife allows the user to grasp the handle and rock the blade back and forth across the food, eliminating the need to saw back and forth.

T-Grip Rocker Knife

Built Up Utensils: the handles on these utensils have a larger circumference which makes it easier to grip and hold them. You can purchase a set of utensils pre-made with larger handles such as these: Vive Adaptive Utensil Set or you can purchase tubing such as Foam Tubing Grips to Make Built Up Utensils Handles and add it to any slender tool or utensil in your home.

Curved Silverware: for those with limited hand/wrist range of motion or spasticity this type of utensil can direct the food into your mouth more easily and comfortably. Note: these come in left- and right-handed styles to pay attention when ordering.

Parsons ADL Comfort Grip Curved Utensils, Soup Spoon, Left

Universal Cuff: great for anyone with hand weakness or limited dexterity, the universal cuff straps around the hand and on the palm side allows for any long household item such as a fork or knife, comb or toothbrush to be held into place for use. If more support at the wrist is needed to keep it extended consider a universal cuff/wrist orthosis combo like this Standard Wrist Orthosis with Universal Cuff. If the user has some stability in the wrist already the smaller version that fits just around the hand such as Norco Universal Quad Cuff may be more appropriate

Liftware Tremor Utensils: these devices were designed to adjust to the amplitude of a hand tremor to try and stabilize the surface of the spoon or fork to allow for easier transfer of food from plate to mouth. Some people are better candidates than others and with a hefty price tag research into the device is a good idea before purchasing

Liftware Steady Starter Kit for Hand Tremor

Cooking tools

Single-handed cutting board: The Single Handed Cutting Board is designed with a barrier in one corner of the board against which items like a sandwich can be stabilized. They also include a number of spikes onto which items like fruits or vegetables can be applied so they don’t move while you cut them.

Adaptive Kitchen Workstation: this multifaceted device suctions to the countertop to prevent slipping. It allows you to stabilize a variety of items for slicing, grating or chopping and provides a nonslip place for bowl to sit while mixing. The Cutting Boards For Kitchen And Meal Prep, Adaptive Wood And Plastic Cutting Board, Kid-Safe Chopping Board  comes with good reviews of its efficacy.

Jar openers: These come in various sizes and shapes and can help open stubborn jar tops. Whether you lack the strength to grasp it tightly or the use of second hand to stabilize the jar these tools can be a lifesaver. Here are a few examples: The Grip Jar Opener: The Original Under Cabinet Lid Opener, Electric Jar Opener, Kitchen Gadget Strong Tough Automatic Jar Opener , Jar Opener Can Opener Bottle Opener

Cut Resistant Gloves: These can be a lifesaver, or finger saver in this case. Cut resistant gloves are made with specialized materials to protect the skin against the sharp edge of a knife blade, grater or mandoline slicer. If you don’t feel like you have the steadiest of hands or greatest coordination these gloves can bring confidence in the kitchen.

NoCry Cut Resistant Gloves

Herb mincer/food chopper: can chop small herbs or food like garlic into small pieces using one hand. You can purchase rolling options like this one: Simposh Mini Chopper or cylindrical ones that you press down on like this one: ZYLISS FastCut Herb Mincer

Other Helpful Items:

Lap Desk for Wheelchair Users: A simple LapGear Mydesk Lap Desk can be a perfect workstation for prepping food from your wheelchair. Consider the material it is made of to ensure you can clean an sanitize it easily between uses.

Kitchen Roll About: The Kitchen Roll About is a wheeled trivet that allows you to move heavy and hot pots or dishes along the countertop without having to lift them 

Nonslip Mats: stabilize plates, bowls, cutting boards or other items

gasare, Extra Large, Thicker, Silicone Mats,

Suction cup plate: The Ableware Scooper Plate with Suction Cup Base for example, adheres to the table to prevent spilling or slippage of the plate during meals 

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Hittin’ the Gym: Adaptive Exercise Equipment

Photo by Cliff Booth on Pexels.com

It is no surprise that health and fitness remain top priorities for persons with movement impairments. As mobility declines, one’s risk for developing chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or hypertension increases which can add another layer of disability and further impair quality of life. Physical impairments such as difficulty or inability to walk, difficulty using the hands or upper extremities, impairments in balance and so forth can pose a challenge when it comes to going to the gym or participating in an exercise routine. 

The good news is that with a little creativity there are almost always ways to participate in physical exercise that meet your individual needs and abilities.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Amercians 2nd edition, adults with disabilities or chronic conditions should be getting 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity or 75-150 minutes of high intensity activities throughout each week (or a combination of both). Additionally, those that are able to do so should aim to complete at least 2 bouts of strengthening exercises involving major muscles each week (Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2018). In these cases it is important to first get clearance from your doctor that it is safe to begin an exercise plan and then consult with an exercise specialist or physical therapist to attain an individualized exercise program. 

If you are ready to begin exercising many states have adaptive fitness centers outfitted with equipment that might be tailored to your needs. If you are looking to use your local gym facility or stock your own home gym these are examples of equipment that can be used to get you on the path to health and fitness.

**IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: this information is meant to alert you to the equipment that exists to help you but is not intended as a training module to use it safely. Please contact the manufacturer of each device or a qualified therapist to help you select devices most appropriate to you and to teach you how to use it safely.

**This post may contain affiliate links from Amazon Associates or other affiliate programs through which I may earn a portion of qualifying purchases

Aerobic Conditioning

Recumbent bike/ seated elliptical: a great option for cardiovascular training for those who aren’t confident or able to walk for exercise but can move their legs well enough to use the bike. The Vanswe Recumbent Exercise Bike is a great option for those looking for a reasonable price and good adjustability. The recumbent seat fully supports the back to limit challenges to balance or core strength. Pro tip: if transferring into and out of the seat poses a challenge, look for a model like the HCI Fitness PhysioStep Recumbent Elliptical with Swivel Seat that has a swivel seat that will turn 90 deg to the side to allow for easier access. While certainly pricier, it is likely a better investment than a cheaper model that will end up sitting in the corner collecting dust because it’s too difficult to get in and out of it.

Ski ergometer: this upper body exerciser that can be used in sitting or standing, focuses on building strength in the posterior shoulder and trunk muscle which is important for healthy shoulders and neck especially for wheelchair users. The Concept2 SkiErg is a common model found in some fitness centers but with its narrow design could easily be used in the home too.

Concept2 SkiErg

Vita glide: seated upper body exerciser targets the chest muscles, the shoulder muscles and upper back. The Vita Glide consists of alternating push/pull with the upper extremities and can be used while sitting in a chair.

Upper Body Ergometer (UBE): think of a bicycle for your arms. This device sits on the tabletop and you use your arms to move the pedals forward and back while you sit or stand. These devices range in price and adjustability such as the more basic Vaunn Medical Folding Pedal Exerciser which is fully powered by your arms (or legs) and in comparison the Exerpeutic 2000M Motorized Electric Legs and Arms Pedal Exerciser which actually has a motorized assist program which helps you to move through the full cycle

Exerpeutic 2000M Motorized Electric Legs and Arms Pedal Exerciser

FES bike: FES stands for functional electrical stimulation. While this device comes at a hefty price and is most often seen within rehabilitation clinics some home options are available. This device uses electrical stimulation delivered to the muscles timed with the cycling of the bike to help re-educate muscles through an external stimulus. This device requires training to learn the proper set up and dosing and you should talk with your doctor or therapist to determine if you are a good candidate as any electrical stimulation can carry risks for certain people. The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation has a great resource on FES bikes for home use.

Easy Stand Glider: The Easy Stand Glider is a mix between an elliptical and a standing frame. The user can transfer into the seat easily and then through a variety of straps and supports the device will help them into a supported standing position at which point arms and legs can be moved as though standing on an elliptical. This device gives all the benefits of standing with the addition of exercise!

Pedal exercisers: lower extremity exercisers that look like either bike or elliptical pedals. The device can be placed in front of any chair or wheelchair and allow for cardiovascular and leg training. See the links in the Upper Body Ergometer section to see examples of the cycling style and check out this link to see the under desk elliptical style Sunny Health & Fitness Under Desk Elliptical

Wheelchair roller trainer: think of this as a treadmill for a wheelchair. Set up like an indoor trainer for a bicycle, this device allows a manual wheelchair user to simulate forward or backwards motion while remaining stationary. Some models even allow for modification of resistance to allow for greater challenges. These are available for standard manual wheelchair and for some sport or racing chairs. The McLain Wheelchair Trainer is an excellent example of this equipment.


Active Hands: This is an awesome company that creates gripping aids for persons with weak or insufficient grasp or hand strength. The General purpose gripping aid, Looped Exercise aids and Hook aids can be used with most handles, barbells, dumbbells and other strengthening equipment in a commercial or home gym to secure your grasp. 

General Purpose gripping aid

Cuff weights: these weights can take the place of a traditional dumbbell and provide resistance to arms and legs without worrying about having to hold onto the weight. You can buy them in a set of various weights such as the The Deluxe Cuff Ankle and Wrist Weight – 7 Piece Set or individually depending on what you need (BalanceFrom GoFit Fully Adjustable Ankle Wrist Arm Leg Weights)

Medicine ball with strap handles: hands can be inserted into the handles and the straps can be fastened tightly to compensate for weakened grip

FitBALL MedBalls with Straps – 6 lb –

Resistance bands: these bands come in different resistances and provide variable resistance to strengthen muscles throughout the body. Loops can be tied into the ends of the band if grasp is difficult. Bands can be secured to a door or other areas of the home as well to allow for different muscles to be targeted. Bands such as these AZURELIFE Resistance Bands, are a good example.

Rickshaw: The CanDo Rickshaw Rehab Exerciser strengthens arms and shoulders from a seated position. Weight plates can be loaded on the opposite side to increase or decrease resistance. 

CanDo Rickshaw Rehab Exerciser

Other Accessories

Push gloves: often used by individuals with high level spinal cord injuries but also useful for other wheelchair users, push gloves provide additional grip to decrease effort and increase efficiency of pushing the rims of the chair. Useful for everyday use and athletic endeavors. Prime Wheelchair Gloves Protective Gear Mobility Quad-Push Gloves

Elastic straps: For those with weakness in their abdominals or trunk, elastic straps such as these placed around the upper trunk and the back of the chair can better enable the exerciser to lift weights and move their upper body against resistance.

Bodypoint Universal Elastic Strap for Wheelchair


Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Compiler; 2nd ed.). (2018). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf