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Brain Injury Basics: An Overview

The human brain is the control center of all we do. Movement, thoughts, memories, imaginations reactions, emotions – all are generated by our brains. So when an injury happens to this crucial organ, it can affect multiple areas of a person’s functioning. Many gains are possible in recovery, but it takes significant time, understanding, and rehabilitation to make it happen.

What is a brain injury?

Brain injury is defined in one of two ways: “Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)” and “Acquired Brain injury (ABI).” A TBI is a brain injury resulting from a significant blow to the head, such as in an auto accident or fall. An ABI, in comparison, is an all inclusive term that means any injury caused to the brain after birth. Examples of an ABI are someone who has experienced a stroke or a lack of oxygen in a near-drowning incident.

There are levels of severity with brain injury, ranging from mild to severe. Mild brain injuries, such as a non-penetrating hit to the head, can often recover well in a short window of weeks. On the other hand, injuries resulting in severe trauma to brain tissue may have more lasting implications for adjustment.

What are the most common causes of brain injury?

While most people likely assume car accidents to be the primary reason brain injuries occur, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), falls are the leading cause of brain injury. Motor vehicle accidents are a close second, followed by other non-vehicle related blows to the head and assaults.

The CDC also reports that over 1.7 million people sustain a brain injury every year in the United States, with men being more likely to sustain a brain injury than women.

What are common symptoms after a brain injury?

Because each person and injury is unique, no two people will have the exact same symptoms as a result of a brain injury. However, where and how the brain is injured has influence on the expression of symptoms. For example, the frontal lobe (the area of the brain located in our foreheads) controls emotions, imagination, intelligence, and other thought processes. In comparison, the brain stem (found at the very back of our heads where the brain meets the spinal cord) controls basic survival activities like breathing and heart rate. By knowing the location, or in some cases, locations of a brain injury, most doctors can give a general prediction of what functions are most likely going to be impaired.

Brain injuries can impact a person’s physical, intellectual, and behavioral health. Some common symptoms are:

  • Impairment of physical movement, muscle strength and function, and some organ functions
  • Reduction in the ability to process information, maintain one’s attention, or remember/retain information
  • Speech and language challenges
  • Depression, aggression, or other mood and personality changes
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Seizures

How is brain injury treated?

Like most illnesses and injuries, the sooner individuals begin receiving treatment, chances are improved for successful rehabilitation. However, meaningful recovery is possible for individuals with delayed intervention. And since no two people experience the same symptoms of brain injury, no two people will have the same outcome after treatment.

Immediately following a brain injury, an individual’s immediate medical needs need to be addressed. Once a patient has been declared medically stable, meaning their vital signs are normal and they no longer need intensive medical treatment or constant nursing involvement, rehabilitation begins. Rehabilitation therapy can include a variety of services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy, but it may also require psychological intervention to address mood and behavioral components often present after a brain injury.

As individuals progresses through their rehabilitation and begin to make significant progress toward their pre-injury capabilities, additional services might be added to promote restoration in all areas of a person’s life. This can include services such as therapeutic recreation to help someone regain the ability to participate in leisure activities like sports or crafting. A person might also benefit from vocational rehabilitation or academic support to help him or her successfully return to work or school.

How long does it take to recover?

The brain’s complex nature makes outcomes sometimes unpredictable. For some, recovery from a brain injury can take months while others may take years. Some learn to adapt to a different life than the one they knew prior to their injury.

Fortunately, there have been important strides in understanding the brain and interventions that support recovery. Our country’s increased scrutiny to concussions in athletes and blast injuries in soldiers helps bring more attention to research relating to brain injury treatment. More and more information is becoming available to health care professionals each year, helping them to implement strategies designed to increase the best possible outcomes and reduce the devastation a brain injury can have on someone’s life.

If you’d like to learn more about how Hope Network Neuro Rehabilitation can help individuals resume meaningful and productive lives following a brain injury, please contact us.