Q&A

Here follows frequently asked questions about traumatic brain injury.

1. What is a traumatic brain injury?

If you experience any forceful contact to your head, and it disrupts your brain’s natural functions, then you’ve experienced a traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

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2. Are all Traumatic Brain Injuries the same?

“TBI” is an umbrella term that spans a wide continuum of symptoms and severity, thus no two traumatic injuries have the same consequences and results. The severity of an injury indicates the extent of damage to the brain and brain injury is commonly rated at three levels – mild, moderate and severe.

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3. How much can a person expect to recover from a severe brain injury?

This depends on the areas of the brain that were injured and the extent of the damage. There is a window of time after the injury that is called the spontaneous recovery period. This is when the brain attempts to recover and repair the bruised neurons. The process takes weeks and may extend for months beyond the date of the injury.

Often, a person must relearn physical skills as well as functional skills. Through rehabilitation, the person also learns to use adaptive strategies and apply skills to solve the problems they are experiencing in their recovery. Therapeutic intervention should begin as soon as the person is medically stable.

The recovery process can only be measured individually due to the complexity of the brain and its ability to continue recovery over time. The return of functional skills continues for years following the injury.

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4. How is brain injury severity determined?

The Glasgow Coma Scale is used at various points following an injury to assess the consciousness, responsiveness and receptive skills of the patient. Often, the devastating effects of a traumatic brain injury are not fully understood until after the patient has completed medical treatment in an ICU and has entered into rehabilitation.

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5. How can a severe brain injury affect the individual?

When a TBI occurs, anything having to do with your brain is potentially affected. The effects of a brain injury can be extremely widespread, impacting all areas of a person’s life. That means your basic body functions, like eating and sleeping, can be altered. It also means that the complex parts of your life — your emotions, your thoughts, and your ability to communicate — can also be disrupted.

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6. What are some common obstacles that arise after a TBI?

  • Improving memory and problem solving;
  • Managing stress and emotional upsets;
  • Controlling one’s temper; and
  • Improving one’s job skills

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7. What are some long-term effects of TBI?

Because the human brain is so complicated, it’s extremely difficult to predict the long-term effects of any TBI. Most cases of mild TBI will resolve over a course of time with minimal problems. In the case of more serious TBIs, a person can experience any number of changes over the course of months and years.

Many people with TBI have problems with basic cognitive skills. It’s hard for them to pay attention or concentrate, and they might have trouble learning new material. A TBI can also make you think more slowly, or cause you to get easily confused. Even insight — the ability to clearly perceive a situation — can be affected. People with TBI may become impulsive, or develop unusual habits. Things that were once easy — like talking and listening — may become difficult or impossible.

Because the brain regulates our emotional and psychological lives, TBI can substantially alter your sense of mental wellness. The TBI might cause a personality change, or introduce mental problems. A person with TBI may have mood swings, depression, irritability, aggression, or disinhibition.

Vision problems are a common side effect of TBI, as are changes in your other senses: smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Problems with balance, vertigo, and ringing in the ears are also common. In a small percentage of cases, seizures occur as a result of TBI and may involve a loss of consciousness and muscle contractions. In many cases, anticonvulsive drugs or surgical intervention may help to prevent or slow seizure activity.

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8. What thought-related changes may occur due to a brain injury?

  • Shortened attention span
  • Memory problems
  • Poor judgment
  • Partial or complete loss of reading and writing skills
  • Problem-solving difficulties
  • Language problems, including communication deficits and loss of vocabulary
  • Inability to understand abstract concepts

Difficulty learning new things

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9. What physical changes may occur due to a brain injury?

  • Weakness
  • Muscle coordination problems
  • Full or partial paralysis
  • Changes in sexual functioning
  • Changes in the senses (hearing, sight, touch, etc.)
  • Seizures (also called traumatic epilepsy)
  • Sleep problems
  • Speech difficulties

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10. What subtle or severe personality and behavioral changes may occur due to a brain injury?

  • Difficulty with social skills
  • Inability to empathize with others
  • Tendency to be more self-centered
  • Inability to control one’s emotions
  • Increases in irritability and frustration
  • Inappropriate and/or aggressive behavior
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Depression (individuals with TBI are considered to be at a high risk for depression)

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11. What causes the inability to control anger and aggression after injury?

There is a correlation between the location of a brain injury and the appearance of anger and aggression. Anger and aggression seem to be caused by a reduction of impulse control as the result of damage to the frontal lobe of the brain.

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12. What causes difficulty controlling emotions and inappropriate sexual behavior?

This is similar to the previous question about anger and aggression. Following a brain injury, some people lose appropriate boundaries when they experience sadness, happiness, and sexual feelings. This loss of inhibition and impulse control can result from the location of their brain lesions, or the loss of communication between areas of the brain.

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If you require more information or professional advice you can visit www.headway.co.za

Headway is a registered welfare organisation dedicated to offering various support programs to survivors of brain injury (BI) and their families.

Please remember that a brain injured person needs a lot of consideration, compassion and kindness. Patience is a definite requirement when interacting with someone whose brain was impaired by a TBI.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. LOU BUCAGLIA

 

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