Traumatic Brain Injury Overview
Life is good! Things are going along fine--until…there is a sudden event in the life of a loved one that brings everything to a screeching halt. Life, as you knew it, will never be the same again.
When an automobile accident, a hunting accident, a sports injury, a fall, or other such thing occurs, life is changed in an instant, without warning, if an injury to the brain occurs. Of course, in any of those situations, the brain may not be affected, but as is often the case, it is. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can happen in any of the instances mentioned, and can be mild, moderate, or severe, and open or closed. An example of a closed injury would be a concussion suffered on the football field, and hardly noticed by those unfamiliar with the injured. An open head injury, for example, would be a gunshot wound to the head.
Every brain injury is different. Depending on what area of the brain was affected, changes will take place in thinking, speech, physical abilities, and social behavior of the injured.. Some brain-injured people may achieve recovery and be able to do many of the tasks they were able to do previously. Others may have a more serious, diffuse injury and require lifelong assistance with many or most daily tasks. Unfortunately, because of the far-reaching consequences of TBI, a brain injury can have a lasting effect on family members, as well.
As a caregiver for a TBI survivor, it is important to keep in mind their brain has suffered damage, even if it is not physically visible. Learning what functions may be affected will help you and the injured person to learn what accommodations need to be made in order to allow them to be as independent as possible. The extent of recovery depends on the severity of the injury. Sometimes cognition and behavioral skills can present great social challenges.
The major areas of change as a result of TBI will be cognitive changes, physical changes, personality, and behavioral changes.Cognitive changes may include: memory and problem-solving ability, short attention span, poor judgment, loss or decline in reading and writing skills, communication difficulties, and loss of vocabulary, not understanding abstract concepts, difficulty initiating tasks, eye-hand incoordination, and difficulty learning new things.Physical changes may include: weakness, coordination difficulties, possible paralysis, changes in hearing, sight, and touch, sleep disorders, speech difficulties, seizures, and changes in sexual functioning.Personality, behavior, and psychosocial changes may include: loss of emotional control (disinhibition), impulsivity, self-centeredness, increased irritability, frustration and anger, impatience, uncooperativeness, anxiety, withdrawal, interpersonal and conversational skill deficits, social inappropriateness, depression, psychosis, extreme mood swings, tendency toward substance abuse, and reduced self-awareness and insight.
These are not all of the changes that might be noticed after Traumatic Brain Injury, but they are the major ones that will require much patience and intervention.
It is important to recognize just how stressful it can be as a caregiver for a person suffering from TBI. Seek support and services to help you and your care recipient cope with the changes, and prevent caregiver fatigue and burnout.
The amount of recovery depends upon the extent of the injury. For a more severe injury, there is a greater likelihood that the TBI survivor will not be able to reach his/her before-injury level of functioning. Neuropsychological rehabilitation can help improve recovery after a head injury. Medical researchers believe that natural recovery is possible 1-2 years after injury.
Caregivers will need to have an extra measure of patience because the recovery is often a long, slow process. It is important to reach out for emotional support through support groups for Traumatic Brain Injury. State brain injury programs, and Centers for Independent Living (CIL), can provide information regarding help with advocacy, referrals, case management, and personal assistance. The Social Security Administration can provide information regarding any available financial assistance.
Seek help sooner, rather than later, for your care recipient with Traumatic Brain Injury to ensure the best possible outcome and recovery. Reach out for support for yourself and other family members to learn what to expect as a result of TBI, and to prevent caregiver fatigue and burnout.