I would point out that a standard rat cage is actually a deprived environment. It is either a metal cage or a plastic shoebox cage, both with access to water and food and in the latter, bedding. So while it is used as an environmental control, it is more austere than that of a typical human after brain injury.
Something else that should be looked at is the best time frame for introducing intensive stimulation after brain injury, especially in humans. As shown in previous research by Dr. Edward Taub, there is a period after the initial injury in which stimulation can actually worsen the effects of the injury.
From Tel Aviv University American Friends Newsroom:
Enriched Environments Hold Promise for Brain Injury Patients>
Tuesday, November 11, 2014 9:30:00 AM
TAU study finds improved living conditions led to rehabilitation of mice following traumatic brain injury
As football players are learning, a violent blow to the head has the potential to cause mild to severe traumatic brain injury — physical damage to the brain that can be debilitating, even fatal. The long-term effects run the gamut of human functioning, from trouble communicating to extensive cognitive and behavioral deterioration. To date, there is no effective medical or cognitive treatment for patients with traumatic brain injuries.
But a new study from Tel Aviv University researchers points to an “enriched environment” — specially enhanced surroundings — as a promising path for the rehabilitation of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) patients. The research, published in Behavioral Brain Research, was led by Prof. Chagi Pick of TAU’s Sagol School of Neuroscience and Sackler Faculty of Medicine and conducted by a team of researchers from both TAU and TAU-affiliated Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.
Mice move on up
The study, conducted on mice at a TAU laboratory, followed two groups of animals with minimal traumatic brain injury. The first group was kept in standard cages and maintained under routine conditions, while the second enjoyed “enriched environments,” replete with sensory stimuli, open space, and plentiful opportunities to eat and exercise.
An environment of riches
According to the study, an “enriched environment” may play a critical role in brain regulation, behavior, and physiology. Using a model of minimal TBI in mice, the team evaluated the effect of transition to an enriched environment on behavioral and cognitive parameters. Using the Novel Object Recognition task, in which mice exhibit different levels of curiosity about new objects placed in their cages, and run different mazes to establish navigation abilities, the researchers sought to determine the mice’s level of functioning in standard cages versus enriched environments — cages with additional stimuli, running wheels, plenty of food, open space, and water. The mice exposed to an enriched environment showed a marked improvement in recovery from brain injuries.
“We have shown that just six weeks in an enriched environment can help animals recover from cognitive dysfunctions after traumatic brain injury,” said Prof. Pick. “Possible clinical implications indicate the importance of adapting elements of enriched environments to humans, such as prolonged and intensive physical activity, possibly combined with intensive cognitive stimulation. Through proper exercise, stimuli, and diet, we can improve a patient’s condition. No one is promising a cure, but now we have evidence that this can help.