Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury Damage
Brain injuries are among the most serious injuries that an individual can experience, often leading to death and disability. Each year, around 1.5 million people in the United States sustain a traumatic brain injury. Of those, around 50,000 will die. Another 80,000 or more will incur permanent disability due to the injury, as the brain has only a limited ability to recover from the damage it sustains. Around 5.3 million people (which equals about 2 percent of the nation’s population) are living with a brain injury.
So, what are the signs that someone has sustained brain damage? Some of them are obvious, while others are harder to recognize. Here is a look at some of the more common signs of brain damage.
Poor Impulse and Emotional Control
Poor impulse and emotional control are hallmarks of frontal lobe injuries.
The brain is a complex organ divided into several sections, known as lobes, which control all the functions of the body, including both voluntary and involuntary responses. One of the brain’s lobes is the frontal lobe. As its name suggests, the frontal lobe is located in the frontal region of the brain, near the forehead.
The frontal lobe is one of the largest lobes in the brain, and also one of the most frequent areas to sustain a traumatic brain injury.
Common causes of injury to the front or forehead region of the brain include:
- Motor vehicle accidents where the individual’s forehead makes contact with the windshield, the hood of the car, or even the pavement (as might happen in a car accident where the individual was ejected, or in a motorcycle, bicycle, or pedestrian accident).
- Falls from a distance or the same level, in which a person strikes his or her head on the floor or against an object.
- Construction accidents in which a person is struck by an object.
- Sports or recreation accidents in which a person’s forehead comes in contact with another person or object.
Frontal lobes serve as the executives of the brain, responsible for many of a person’s thinking and decision-making processes. The frontal lobe is involved in everyday functions such as making plans, switching from one activity to another, or resisting temptations. When an individual sustains an injury to the frontal lobe, it may be hard to notice the signs of the damage simply in a one-on-one conversation. However, the person may have serious difficulties with the organizational, planning, and impulse-control required to perform everyday tasks. This is known as the frontal lobe paradox.
Inability to Communicate
The ability to speak and understand spoken language are functions that are controlled by multiple areas of the brain, including the frontal and temporal lobes. Injuries to the left side of the brain can also impact a person’s ability to communicate. After a brain injury that involves one of these parts of the brain, individuals are often assessed by a speech-language pathologist who not only will test speech, language, and thinking skills, but also will test the individual’s ability to chew and swallow.
The speech-language pathologist will then begin working to address areas of concern, such as:
- The ability to speak clearly.
- The ability to express one’s thoughts.
- The ability to understand the written word.
- The improvement of memory with the use of memory blocks, calendars, and to-do lists.
- The improvement of social skills including understanding social cues and taking turns in a conversation.
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Difficulty With Balanced and Coordinated Movement
Located just above the brain stem, the cerebellum controls balance and coordination. Injuries to this area of the brain can result in difficulty with balanced and coordinated movement. Because each half of the brain controls the other half of the body, damage to either the left side or the right side of the brain can also result in coordinated movement deficits. Additionally, muscle atrophy is common after a brain injury and can result in a consciousness disorder or a long period of immobility. This muscle atrophy can result in weakness and cause movements to look off-balance or uncoordinated.
While rehabilitation centers often work with brain-injured patients to regain important skills such as paying attention and the ability to plan or problem-solve, physical therapy works on strengthening muscles that have atrophied due to immobility. It also helps address issues with balance and coordinated movement. The physical therapist that provides these services should either specialize in or have a lot of experience in treating brain-injured clients.
Trouble Controlling One Side of the Body
The brain not only has several different lobes, each responsible for important bodily functions, it also has two sides. The left side of the brain controls movement on the right side of the body and the right side of the brain controls the movement of the left side of the body. Trouble controlling movement on one side of the body can be indicative of brain damage to the opposite hemisphere.
An important aspect of physical therapy and rehabilitation after sustaining damage that causes difficulty in controlling movement to one side of the body is to help the brain develop new pathways to send signals to the side of the body suffering from the damage while simultaneously building and maintaining strength on the affected side of the body.
Like expressive and receptive language (the ability to speak and understand language), several lobes are involved in the function of memory. This includes the frontal and temporal lobes. Injuries to the right side of the brain can cause deficits in visual memory. Traumatic brain injuries more often affect short-term memory more than long-term memory, and individuals suffering from brain injury-related memory loss may struggle greatly with the act of remembering to remember. That is, remembering to do certain tasks that are scheduled in the future, such as keeping appointments or calling someone back after you have told them you would.
Common memory deficits created by a brain injury include:
- Forgetting details of the conversation, including the act of passing along messages to others.
- Forgetting where you left things, such as your car keys or cell phone.
- Forgetting what you have previously done or said, or asking the same questions over and over.
- Being unsure of what day or time of day it is.
- The inability to retrace your route, even if you just traveled that route in recent days.
- Forgetting all or part of what you just read in a book or saw in a movie.
- Forgetting what you are supposed to be doing at work, home, school, or in the community.
- Forgetting important occasions, such as a birthday or a holiday.
- Forgetting to take medicines at a regularly scheduled time.
For individuals with memory issues following a brain injury, therapies often focus on teaching compensatory methods for addressing memory issues, including getting rid of distractions that can impact one’s ability to focus on the important items or events. They can also focus on the use of memory assistants such as to-do lists, organizers, and cell phone apps to help the individual remember their scheduled tasks.
Additional help may include asking others to speak slowly and repeating what they said to help remember it, and giving oneself extra time to practice or rehearse things that need to be remembered. Forgotten items such as a wallet, keys, or a cell phone can be placed at a memory station, where they can be seen easily and accessed before leaving the home. A dated pill box can be used to remember to take medications properly.
Brain injuries are often classified as mild, moderate, and severe. However, even a “mild” brain injury—commonly referred to as a concussion—can produce serious consequences. Post-concussion syndrome is a set of issues, including headaches, that occur after an individual has suffered a concussion. These headaches generally begin within a few days after the injury and are gone within three months. However, for some people, the headaches become chronic, lasting a year or more. Experts believe that post-concussion syndrome is caused by structural damage to the brain or a disruption in the messaging system to the nerves.
Those who are most likely to experience post-concussion syndrome, regardless of the severity of the injury, include:
- Older people;
- Individuals with a history of previous brain injuries;
- Individuals with a history of depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorders;
- Those with a poor social support system;
- Those who have a lack of coping skills; and
- Those experiencing significant life stressors.
There is no single, definitive test for post-concussion syndrome. Instead, doctors will perform diagnostic scans to rule out other injuries or illnesses that could mimic the same symptoms. Medications are commonly used to treat headaches, including antidepressants, antihypertensive agents, and anti-epileptic agents. Additional therapies and medications can be used to alleviate some of the other symptoms of the disorder, including thinking and memory problems as well as related depression and anxiety.
Post-traumatic epilepsy is recurrent seizures occurring more than a week after brain injury. The seizures occurring shortly after the injury are believed to be a response to the injury itself. However, those occurring more than a week after the injury are often unprovoked. This condition affects around 5 percent of individuals who have suffered a brain injury, and accounts for about 20 percent of all cases of acquired epilepsy. While it is impossible to predict which patient will experience this condition, the risk of post-traumatic epilepsy is generally higher in people who suffer a penetrating brain injury or bleeding within the brain.
Other risk factors that increase an individual’s likelihood of experiencing post-traumatic epilepsy include:
- A genetic predisposition toward seizures.
- The severity of the injury, because those whose injuries are more severe are more likely to have complications such as post-traumatic epilepsy.
- Suffering a penetrating injury. Injuries that involve a foreign object breaking through the skull and penetrating the brain are 50 percent more likely to incur post-traumatic seizures as a result of an injury than those whose injury does not involve penetration of the skull.
- Injuries that occur in combat, which generally result in more widespread trauma.
- The presence of post-traumatic seizures within the first few days after the injury. About one-quarter of those suffering seizures during the early days of the injury will go on to develop the recurrent, late-stage seizures seen in post-traumatic epilepsy.
Doctors commonly treat this condition with anti-epileptic medication. If medication cannot effectively control the condition, then surgical interventions may be required. The prognosis of individuals suffering from epilepsy as a result of trauma is worse than that of those who are epileptic due to an undetermined cause. Post-traumatic epilepsy increases the risk of premature death.
Any damage to the brain has the potential to lead to issues that cross from physical to psychological. The brain essentially is the physical receptacle of the “self”. Our personality, memories, knowledge, etc. all have physical ties to the structure of the brain and can be affected when that structure is damaged. Brain damage sustained as a result of a traumatic brain injury can cause neuropsychiatric problems such as sleeping disorders, personality disorders, attention deficit disorders, depression, anxiety, and cognitive deficit disorders. These problems require not only a physical aspect of care but psychological medicine as well. Like much of the damage caused by a traumatic brain injury, neuropsychological problems can often only be treated and not cured entirely with a person needing to dedicate themselves to long-term therapy and rehabilitation.
Impacts of Brain Damage
The conditions described above, along with several other signs of brain damage, are part of what makes brain injuries such a difficult type of injury to treat, and also results in extraordinary impacts to a person’s ability to participate in the community, have mutually enjoyable relationships with family members and friends, procure and retain gainful employment, or to complete school.
Seek an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
If you or your loved one suffered a brain injury as a result of the careless or reckless actions of someone else, the impacts that the injury has had on your life can help determine the value of your case, which is the amount of money you may seek from the at-fault party through either a settlement or a brain injury lawsuit.
An experienced brain injury lawyer knows about these common complications, the treatment methods that are used to assist the person in compensating for deficits caused by the injury. They understand the financial, physical, and emotional toll that this type of injury can create for an injured person and his or her loved ones. Contact a brain injury attorney today to discuss your matter and your legal options moving forward.
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Clearwater, FL 33765