TBI remains an ever-growing challenge for doctors and health experts. But “how big of a problem is TBI?”, you might ask.
In the United States alone, traumatic brain injury is classified as one of the most serious health problems. Many cases of permanent disability and death are caused by brain injuries every year. An estimated 2.8 million people either died, had to visit the emergency department or be hospitalized in 2014. Kids are not left out either as over 800,000 children were affected by TBI related events during that time.
Evidently, victims, as well as families and caregivers, feel the impact of traumatic brain injury. So, we prepared a comprehensive guide to help you understand more about this condition and what to expect. We’ve also included helpful information and resources that can help your family if a loved one is currently battling TBI.
What Exactly Is Traumatic Brain Injury?
A traumatic brain injury occurs when the head comes in contact with an external force. This could happen in a lot of different situations. TBI could occur during a car accident that results in the head hitting the windshield. IED explosions or a piece of shrapnel getting into the brain can also lead to a brain injury.
Despite the different possible causes of TBI, one thing is certain – The jolt or blow that the brain receives eventually leads to brain damage!
How severe is TBI?
When a brain injury occurs, it may just be mild or could be very severe.
A mild traumatic brain injury happens if the blow to the head causes the victim to briefly lose consciousness or experience a temporary change in their mental state. An example is a concussion (a form of brain injury). Most cases of mild TBI are never diagnosed, implying that victims tend to be deprived of medical care and rehabilitation.
On the other hand, severe cases of TBI are characterized by the victim losing consciousness for a long period (which could be hours or weeks). This type of brain injury can permanently disable the victim.
Asides concussions, TBI can also take other forms such as contusions, penetration injury, and diffuse axonal injury.
How will TBI affect the victim?
If your loved one is a victim of brain injury, they could be affected in different ways. Their condition may affect how they think and speak, as well as their behavior and physical performance. In some cases, victims will live with the consequences for the rest of their lives. But your loved one may be able to recover and get on with their everyday routine. Here are some possible ways that TBI affects victims:
Partial/total inability to read or write, limited attention span, learning problems, difficulties with abstract learning, communication issues, poor judgment, memory problems.
Insomnia, traumatic epilepsy, paralysis (partial/total), altered sexual performance, issues with muscle coordination, weakness, difficulty with speech, sensory changes.
Mood swings, depression, inappropriate behavior, egocentrism, loss of empathy towards others, irritability, poor social skills, lack of restraint.
Can a victim recover from TBI?
No two brain injury cases are exactly similar. The time needed to recover is not the same for all victims. Some will experience short-term effects while others may have to deal with lifelong difficulties.
The chance of recovery from head injury is most times classified using the Glasgow Outcome Scale (GOS). Mild traumatic brain injury cases usually perform well on this scale. The victims, in this case, are highly likely to see their symptoms improve eventually.
Moderate cases of traumatic brain injury fare less well, with some making a positive recovery and others suffer some disability. In very severe cases, the patients may die or experience more severe disabilities. The GOS is not that effective in measuring cognitive and emotional issues. Some victims may perform well on the scale but still suffer neuropsychological disabilities. The chances of recovery for your loved one will depend on different factors like the degree of injury and how the brain is affected.
Recovery advice for brain injury patients
As earlier mentioned, no two brain injury cases are exactly similar, so, your loved one will have a unique recovery process. Recovery can take anywhere from a couple of months to many years because time is an important factor in brain healing. But here are some great tips to help your loved one in their journey towards recovery:
- Get adequate rest
- Steer clear of alcohol and drug abuse
- Always jot down important details to make up for memory problems
- Do not engage in exercises or activities that put you at risk of another brain injury
- Stick to your doctor’s prescription, instructions, and advise regarding sports, use of equipment, and road safety
- Ask your doctor for the best rehabilitation services for your condition
Rehabilitation for TBI Victims
Rehabilitation is necessary and has lots of benefits for your loved one. This is one of the best ways to speed up the process that helps them become independent again.
With the help of rehabilitation, their body will heal faster and they will also relearn the processes necessary to quicken recovery. If your loved one loses some abilities because of their brain injury, they will have the opportunity to learn newer ways of getting things done through rehabilitation programs.
Enrolling a loved one into a rehabilitation program will bring them in contact with the right specialists for their condition. As family members, you’ll also form the core of the rehabilitation team and need to be involved throughout the process. Victims that go through rehabilitation will work with psychiatrists, neurologists, neuropsychologists, language and occupational therapists, vocational rehab professionals, and speech therapists.
How long will the rehabilitation last?
There is no fixed period for rehabilitation and your loved one may continue with the program for years. But keep in mind that the rehabilitation services will work to their advantage. The programs, services, and treatments will continue to evolve as the needs of your loved one change. The affected family member may be involved in acute rehabilitation, treatment facilities, transitional living programs, day treatment programs, behavior management programs, and long-term care programs.
Helpful Tips For Preventing TBI
TBI changes the lives of victims, as well as that of their families. Protecting yourself is non-negotiable at this point. To lower the risk of suffering a traumatic brain injury, here are some general tips to help you stay safe:
- Always use the seatbelt when driving in a vehicle
- Ensure that firearms are unloaded and locked away in a safe compartment while ammunition is stored separately
- Do not make the mistake of driving under the influence or sharing a vehicle with an unstable driver
- Any hazards that could cause a fall in the home should be eliminated. Keep electrical cords and rugs secure, and install window guards. Ensure that handrails and grab bars are also installed
- in homes that have elderly people.
- Use approved protective headgear or helmets for specific sports
- Stick to the rules at public beaches and swimming pools
- Always keep an eye on your kids and never let them get in contact with potentially harmful equipment
- Be sure you are in the right condition of health before participating in sports
- Adhere to traffic rules and watch out for cyclists or skateboarders
- Cyclists and skateboarders should avoid uneven/unpaved surfaces
- Always check your equipment and playgrounds, and get rid of bad or damaged gear.
You can prevent a brain injury if you apply the necessary precautions. This will help lower the risk of suffering a blow or jolt to the head.
A Dedicated Note To Caregivers
When your loved one experiences a traumatic brain injury, this automatically affects the entire family. Since no two cases of brain injury are exactly similar, your loved one’s condition will be different. As a caregiver, your involvement in your loved one’s journey to recovery is one of the most crucial roles in the life of your family member.
According to studies, it is common for caregivers to experience different feelings like stress, depression, and anger, as well as anxiety and distress. This is because the recovery process involves many back-and-forth steps that can take a toll on you. Also, finding the right and proper service for your family member can be a challenge and you will need lots of persistence until you find the right assistance. So, here are some tips that can help you fulfill your role of caregiving despite the challenges:
- Get in-home assistance in the form of personal care assistants
- Take advantage of respite care to give you a break
- Seek for support groups centered around brain injury
- Get short-term or long-term caregiver’s counseling to help you make adjustments as your loved one’s needs change
- Accept help from family and friends, as well as community members, to save yourself from burnout.
Help For TBI Victims In Military Service
Among US forces serving in war zones around the world, traumatic brain injury has a high rate of occurrence. This mostly results from the use of IEDs regularly, thereby exposing service members to situations and injuries that could possibly result in brain injury. Also, the common training and operational activities associated with the military poses danger for service members.
With this in mind, Veteran Affairs (VA) along with the military health system in the United States is actively responding to TBI.
An integrated national care system is set up by the VA to provide care for veterans, as well as other members on active duty. This nationwide care system is meant to cater to the needs of members and veterans recovering from polytrauma and brain injury. There are over 100 Veteran Affairs medical centers that provide specialized rehabilitation care.
Starting in 2007, all veterans are expected to undergo TBI screening. Positively screened veterans then have to go through comprehensive evaluation for proper diagnosis. Veterans that require rehabilitation services, thereafter, can then benefit from the individualized Rehabilitation and Reintegration Treatment Plan of Care.
This comprehensive guide should help you understand more about TBI, what to expect as a patient or caregiver, and how to find help to cope with the condition and the changes that it brings.