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Mind Your Mind: The Physical Effects of TBIs

The month of March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, which is why the focus of today’s blog will be on Traumatic Brain Injuries, also known as TBIs.  One of the most common injuries among American citizens are Traumatic Brain Injuries.  In fact, about 1.5 million Americans suffer from this type of grievance each year.  This means that approximately “every twenty-one seconds one person in the U.S. sustains a TBI” (Larsen, 2008).  Due to the fact that TBIs are such a common injury, we are going to talk about them in depth as it is important to be aware of the emotional and physical effects this trauma can have on your brain. 

 

When you hear the term “Traumatic Brain Injury,” it is easy to assume that this type of injury only occurs in extreme situations such as a car accident.  The reality is they can also happen as the result of a freak accident.  Take Clark Jacobs for example, a student at Georgia Tech who fell off his seven-foot lofted bed while he was fast asleep.  You would think this was no big deal, and that Clark simply fell off his bed, proceeded to get up and climbed back under the covers.  This assumption is entirely wrong, as that seemingly meaningless fall changed Clark’s life forever.  When Clark fell from his bed, he hit his head so hard that he got a massive skull fracture, leading to a brain bleed that would threaten his life.  During Clark’s bleed, his brain herniated causing a stroke in his cerebellum.  This was detrimental to Clark’s physical abilities, as the “cerebellum coordinates voluntary movements such as posture, balance, coordination, and speech” (Healthline, 2015).  Clark had to relearn how to do every function of life, including swallowing, eating, talking, and walking with a walker.  Although his journey was rigorous and unfortunate, Clark was thankfully able to return to Georgia Tech in the fall of 2016, after two and a half years of rehabilitation.

 

There are countless stories just like Clark’s, and more can be found here.  The intention behind sharing this story is so our readers will be more aware of traumatic brain injuries and recognize the fact that this type of injury can seriously impair a person’s ability to function.  This does not mean that you should be paranoid about every single little injury that you or your child experiences, however be sure to look for the signs of TBI, and immediately seek medical attention if the criteria are met. 

 

Through Clark Jacobs’ story, I’m sure you now have a pretty good idea of what a traumatic brain injury is, but just to be safe let’s talk about the definition of a TBI in a little more depth.  A TBI is harm to the brain caused by an outside force, such as a car crash or an intense tackle from the opposing football team.  An injury of this magnitude can potentially lead to “permanent or temporary impairment” of an individual’s ability to think critically, socially interact, or physically function.  Additionally, a TBI can cause a changed sense of awareness or perception of one’s surroundings (Dawodu, 2017).   This means that a person may be described as “out of it” or “loopy” after experiencing this injury, as their brain has quite literally been knocked against their skull causing a blurred sense of reality. 

 

Now that we have established what a traumatic brain injury is, let’s talk about the effects they can have on an individual if left untreated.  It is important to recognize that this type of injury is not a simple physical impairment, as it can influence your cognitive and emotional functions as well.  To better your understanding of these side effects, let’s expand on what each of these symptoms include (Larsen, 2008):

 

  • Physical Changes: a person may have loss of coordination, dizziness, and balance difficulties.  In addition, a person can also have vision and auditory processing problems.  Fatigue and headaches are probably the most common side effects a person will experience.  TBIs can also lead to sleep disorders, which will ultimately result in more fatigue. 
     

  • Cognitive Changes: a person may experience a combination of attention and concentration problems; short-term memory problems; difficulty starting or following through on tasks; and executive functioning problems, including multitasking, organization, problem-solving, and decision making.  All of these require the brain to hold several thoughts at once, and a TBI impairs a person’s ability to think clearly or follow directions.
     

  • Emotional/Behavioral Changes: emotional and behavioral changes may also occur as a result of a TBI, including anxiety, withdrawal, depression, impulsivity, and inappropriate social interactions.  If the frontal lobes are damaged, a person may have difficulty putting the brakes on anger or aggression.  Lack of self-awareness is often an issue. Generally, the more severe the injury, the less self-aware a person is.

 

One aspect that should be emphasized in the emotional/behavioral changes that a person might experience is frontal lobe damage.  The frontal lobes are a part of the brain that play a significant role in emotional control and development.  This is especially critical in children, as an injury to this part of the brain could have detrimental effects on a child’s development; meaning they will have a hard time socializing and forming relationships due to their inability to control their emotions.  It is precisely for this reason it is essential to know the effects a TBI can have on an individual, as it can drastically impair a person’s quality of life.  In next week’s blog we will go into more depth about the emotional effects of TBI, so keep an eye out for it as it will provide a lot of insight for what the signs and symptoms look like in a real life scenario!

 

TOPPS encourages you to recognize the seriousness of TBIs and the effects that they can have on your quality of life.  If someone has suffered a serious blow to the head (whether it was from falling down the stairs, headbutting a soccer ball, or other impacts to the head), take caution to assess the seriousness of the injury since this can have a big impact on the person’s recovery. If you suspect a TBI has occurred, please seek medical attention.  If you are struggling with the effects of a TBI and it is taking a toll on you mentally or causing changes in emotions, please visit our psychological services for professional help and guidance.  Asking for help and finding a support system can make all the difference in your emotional health, so please Mind Your Mind, and do not hesitate to reach out if you are in need.

 

Resources:

 

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2017, January 31). What Is a Concussion? Retrieved March 07, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/headsup/basics/concussion_whatis.html

 

Dawodu, S. T. (2017, August 18). Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) - Definition, Epidemiology, Pathophysiology. Retrieved March 07, 2018, from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/326510-overview#a1

 

Healthline Medical Team (2015, March 5). Cerebellum Function, Anatomy & Definition | Body Maps. Retrieved March 07, 2018, from https://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/cerebellum

 

Larsen , D. (2008, February). Understanding Brain Injury. Retrieved March 07, 2018, from https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm08/bm0802/bm080214.htm

 

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