Every breath we take, every heart beat, our ability to think, understand and communicate are all controlled by our brains. The brain serves as the body’s control center, processing information and sending signals to the rest of the body with lightening speed. But what happens when our brains are injured?
A bump, blow, jolt or other head injury can disrupt the brain’s normal function. Each year about 1.7 million Americans suffer from some type of traumatic brain injuries (TBI). These brain injuries may be a contributing factor in about one-third of all injury-related deaths in the United States and are the direct cause of 52,000 deaths each year.
- Children under the age of 4, teenagers ages 15-19 years old and adults over the age of 65 are more likely to have a TBI.
- About 75 percent of TBIs are classified as concussions.
- Adults ages 75 and older have the highest rates of TBI-related hospitalization and deaths.
- Men, regardless of age group, are more likely to have a traumatic brain injury.
- Falls, especially for young children and older adults, are the leading cause of TBIs.
- The leading cause of TBI-related deaths is traffic accidents.
Symptoms of TBI
Symptoms of TBI vary depending on the severity and location of the injury. These can include headaches, fuzzy or blurred vision, irritability, sleep disturbances, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, sensitivity to light and noise, balance problems, or feeling tired. In more severe cases, the person may become unconscious, have difficulty breathing, become unable to respond to others, develop paralysis or lose bowel and bladder control.
Any person who has had a head injury or a suspected head injury should seek immediate medical care. Call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room.
Treatment for TBI will depend on the type and severity of brain injury. A computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan will allow doctors to see what is happening in the brain. In some cases, mild concussion injuries may not be readily seen on these scans. Doctors also will review the person’s condition and ask questions about what happened to cause the injury.
Recovering from TBI
Most people with milder forms of TBI like a concussion recover quickly and fully. For some people, though, symptoms can last for days, weeks or longer. Older adults may recover at a slower rate. Anyone with a prior brain injury may take longer to heal. In fact, repeated TBIs may cause cumulative neurological and cognitive problems.
To help the brain heal after a TBI, you should:
- Get lots of rest. Ease back into your normal routine slowly.
- Avoid doing anything that could cause another jolt or blow to the head.
- Take only medications that are prescribed by your doctor and don’t drink alcohol until you are told it’s OK to do so.
- Avoid physically demanding activities such as sports, heavy housecleaning, working out or tasks that require concentration such as sustained computer use or video games.
- Ask your doctor when it is safe for you to drive a car, ride a bike or operate heavy machinery.
You may find it hard to remember things after a TBI. Write things down if you are having problems with memory and ask family members or friends for help. Some people become more emotional after a TBI. Tell your doctor if you are having difficulty controlling your emotions.
If you notice that symptoms related to your TBI are recurring or becoming worse, this may be a sign that you are over-exerting yourself. You should stop any strenuous activities and take more time to rest and recover.
People with severe TBIs may need additional help recovering. Your doctor can recommend physical, occupational and speech therapy that are designed to help you relearn skills.