What Is Cognitive Rehabilitation?

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

A loss of cognitive functioning following brain trauma or stroke does not have to be permanent due to cognitive rehabilitation, which helps restore neurological pathways. Learn about the definition, process and insurance coverage information of cognitive rehabilitation in this lesson.

Cognitive Rehabilitation

When Arizona congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords suffered a life-threatening shot in the head, she received the the highest quality medical treatment, including cognitive rehabilitation. Cognitive rehabilitation , also known as cognitive rehabilitation therapy (CRT), is the process of restoring thinking skills or cognitive functioning following brain trauma, such as a gun shot, or damage to the brain, such as that from a stroke. Cognitive rehabilitation is important because a deficiency in cognitive functioning can also impact social, occupational and communicative functioning.

Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords received superb medical treatment for her brain injury, including cognitive rehabilitation.
Image of Gabrielle Giffords

Cognitive rehabilitation really came to the forefront after World War I and II, because there were many soldiers who suffered brain trauma in battle and needed to regain a functional level of cognitive functioning.

Cognitive rehabilitation is a nonsurgical and non-pharmaceutical therapeutic process. It can be performed by cognitive rehabilitation therapists who have a masters degree in an approved health field (some examples are nursing and occupational therapy) as well as a certification in cognitive rehabilitation. Cognitive rehabilitation can assist in retraining, restoring and repairing the following cognitive domains:

  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Impulse control
  • Perception
  • Judgment
  • Comprehension
  • Visual processing
  • Reasoning
  • Information processing
  • Language

Just as a physical therapist can help a patient regain physical mobility after a stroke, a cognitive rehabilitation therapist can help restore cognition after brain injury or stroke. The goal of cognitive rehabilitation therapy (CRT) is to improve cognitive processes and increase ability for an individual to function in the real world.

Process of Cognitive Rehabilitation

If cognitive rehabilitation was a recipe, it would have four primary ingredients. We will learn about these ingredients in the context of Jorge, a war veteran who has sustained brain trauma and is undergoing cognitive rehabilitation:


Jorge needs to learn what is considered a cognitive weakness versus a cognitive strength. He needs to recognize that his cognition is not what it was before war so that he can be receptive to the cognitive rehabilitation therapeutic process. By attending a weekly education group, Jorge can also gain validation and emotional support for what he is experiencing.

Process Training

Jorge can relearn and recover cognitive skills that were lost due to the brain trauma. His cognitive rehabilitation therapist does this by trying to restore damaged neurological cells and pathways through the use of repetitive and various exercises to train the brain.

Strategy Development

Some of Jorge's damaged neurological pathways cannot not be fully restored, so he must learn compensatory techniques to make up for these losses. For example, Jorge is using a daily agenda book, alarm on his phone, calendar and memory log. These help Jorge remember important events, dates and things he needs to do.

Functional Application

Jorge utilizes the education, practice of cognitive skills and compensatory techniques in everyday life. He is given tasks by his cognitive rehabilitation therapist to interact with people in the community at certain events or to practice his new skills at church.

Awareness is one of the most important goals of CRT. If a client is aware when he is experiencing cognitive problems and is cognizant that the problems are due to his injury or stroke, then he can be more receptive to education, motivated to participate in process training or utilize compensatory strategies. He can also gain confidence and self-esteem knowing that his cognitive impairments are due to his injury, and not a lack of intelligence.

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