Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) can come in many shapes and forms. Though most individuals associate TBIs with contact sports and auto accidents, brain injury can result from a number of circumstances, including everyday slips and falls. From mild concussions to skull fractures, all forms of injury affecting the head must be taken seriously.
How Severe is the Traumatic Brain Injury?
Before deciding upon a treatment option, it is first crucial to determine the level of brain injury sustained by the individual. The following chart highlights the characteristics of mild, moderate, and severe forms of traumatic brain injury.
Amongst medical professionals, the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is the most common means of assessing patients’ levels of consciousness and responsiveness. The scale evaluates the visual, verbal, and motor responses of patients on a 15-point scale, determining whether the patient is fully conscious, comatose, or deeply unconscious. This GCS is often used to determine the severity of an individual’s traumatic brain injury.
Mild Traumatic Brain Injury
In cases of mild TBI, symptoms are generally mild. Often, many cases go undiagnosed, except in instances where the individual’s brain functioning has been impaired, usually resulting in the diagnosis of a concussion.
Mild traumatic brain injury often occurs in instances where:
- An injury occurs without the individual losing consciousness, though confusion, dizziness, or lightheadedness may occur
- Consciousness is lost very briefly, usually for no longer than a few minutes
- The brain injury is mild enough that brain scans and tests may not identify it
- Glasgow Coma Scale tests result in a score of 13-15 (15 indicating healthy brain function and full
Moderate Traumatic Brain Injury
Moderate TBIs may be more easy to recognize and diagnose. Such injuries generally result from a significant instance of head trauma, such as a blow or violent shaking affecting the head. Accidents causing moderate TBI generally result in closed-head injuries. Though external damage may be minor, moderate TBIs may impact an individual’s cognitive functioning and overall well-being. Some individuals may function without many, or any, noticeable symptoms following their injury. Others, however, may suffer from a number of symptoms, ranging from mild suffering to lifelong disabilities.
Moderate traumatic brain injury often occurs in instances where:
- A severe head injury has resulted in a less of consciousness lasting from minutes up to a number of hours
- Confusion, mental fuzziness, and other such symptoms remain present for days or weeks on end
- Physical injuries may be long-term or enduring
- Cognitive impairment may be permanent
- Behavioral impairment may last for months or years
- Glasgow Coma Scale scores generally range between 9 and 12.
Severe Traumatic Brain Injury
A severe TBI is not a condition to be taken lightly. These injuries are extremely dangerous, and will almost always result in chronic, permanent disabilities. Severe head injuries are generally the result of hugely damaging blows to the head, or wounds that penetrate the scalp and/or skill. Though closed-head injuries can also result in severe TBIs, most individuals with such injury will display noticeable external damage to the head. These injuries actively destroy brain tissue, and are often life-threatening.
Often, surgery and persistent resuscitation measures are required in order to save the individual who has sustained a severe TBI. Hospitalization, surgery, and prolonged inpatient and/or outpatient care measures will need to be taken.
Even with extensive care and rehabilitation, the effects of severe traumatic brain injury are almost always permanent. In most instances of severe TBI, medical professionals emphasize making life comfortable and more easily livable for patients. Though full physical, mental, and emotional healing may be unattainable, it is still possible for such patients to live a full life, despite their TBI.
Severe traumatic brain injury often occurs when:
- an extreme closed-head injury occurs, or open-head damage is sustained
- damage is severe enough to require life-saving surgery and treatment
- cognitive and emotional responses place the patient on the Glasgow Coma Scale with a score of 8 or below.
What Symptoms Am I Experiencing? What Care Should I Seek?
The level of medical care you seek after sustaining a traumatic brain injury will depend upon your physical, mental, and emotional state post-accident. With mild concussions, it is possible that no external care will be required. Even so, patients with all forms of TBI, from mild to severe, may benefit from additional medical care and treatment following their injury.
One of the most challenging things about treating TBIs is the wide range of symptoms presented by various brain-injured patients. As symptoms vary dramatically in type and scale, there is no one-size-fits-all rehabilitative treatment for TBI patients.
Before considering treatment options, it is beneficial to identify the symptoms you are experiencing. Reference the following list for assistance. It may help you to note for each symptom whether it is severe, moderate, mild, or non-existent in your particular case.
Common Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms May Include:
- Attention problems, including issues with concentration and distraction
- Memory issues, including memory loss
- Mental confusion
- Reduced mental processing speed
- Noticeable changes in impulse control/increased impulsiveness
- Difficulties processing language or speech, including receptive aphasia (the inability to understand the spoken word) and expressive aphasia (difficulty speaking in a way that others can comprehend), and other speech problems, including speed and clarity in speaking
- Challenges with reading and/or writing
- Vision problems, including blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and vision loss
- Challenges processing and/or understanding visual stimuli
- Sensory problems, including (but not limited to) challenges involving tactile touch, limb movement and positioning, and sensory perception difficulties (such as challenges involving the perception of smells and tastes, detection of temperature differences, and more)
- Hearing problems and tinnitus
- Persistent pain
- Problems with bodily control (including: paralysis, temperature regulation, bowel control, and more)
- Sleep problems
- Fits of aggression and anger
- Increased emotional dependency
- and more…
In skimming such a list, one can see that traumatic brain injury can impact almost any and every aspect of a patient’s life. Rehabilitation efforts should concentrate on reducing symptoms and pain while boosting brain functioning and recovery. In severe cases where recovery is not possible, rehabilitation should instead focus on measures that will make life as easy as possible for the patient as well as those involved in his or her care.
Care and treatment should involve carefully monitoring TBI patients, ensuring that they are being treated for their chronic symptoms. As traumatic brain injuries have been proven to increase the risk of such conditions as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, TBI patients ought to be closely monitored to ensure detection of such conditions, should they develop.
Palliative care measures should also ensure that the TBI patient is in an environment where he or she is unlikely to sustain any further brain injuries. Even mild TBIs can lead to severe, lasting damage when they occur repeatedly within hours, days, or weeks.
What Medical Professionals Should I Consult?
As stated, the medical professional(s) you consult following a traumatic brain injury should be those who address your most problematic symptoms. The medical professionals highlighted below are some of the most useful doctors for treating TBI and its related conditions and symptoms.
A neurosurgeon is generally involved in surgeries immediately following severe traumatic brain injuries. These surgeons help repair damaged brain tissue while aiming to reduce swelling in and around the brain. Neurosurgeons are generally involved in the treatment of a major brain injury, but generally are not involved in long-term care.
A neurologist is a commonly-sought doctor for many TBI patients. These doctors specialize in the workings of the brain and its nerves and neurons. Neurologists are often the best point of contact for patients suffering from headaches, seizures, and other such issues.
Neuropsychologists provide another important contact-point for those suffering from the symptoms of traumatic brain injury. These doctors have special knowledge of how brain damage affects brain and body functioning following injury. Neuropsychologists can often help diagnose which areas of the brain have been damaged following a TBI-causing injury. They can organize treatment and recovery plans, and often provide therapy for those suffering from traumatic brain injuries, as well as for close family members involved in care.
Speech pathologists are some of the most useful medical professionals for those suffering from TBIs. As their title suggests, speech pathologists often help brain-injured patients cope with their language-related difficulties post-accident. For some, this may involve learning to speak clearly again despite seizures or permanent damage to the speech-related parts of the brain. For others, a speech therapist will help patients with speech comprehension. Often, these doctors are important in helping those with traumatic brain injuries deal with memory issues. Such doctors can provide patients with tips and learning strategies that will help them cope with memory problems that occur in many cases of TBI.
Psychologist and/or Psychiatrist
Standard psychologists and psychiatrists are beneficial in helping TBI patients deal with emotional challenges that arise after sustaining a brain injury. For patients coping with anger, aggression, depression, or anxiety following an accident, a psychologist may be beneficial in sorting out emotional baggage and providing the patient with new coping mechanisms and survival strategies. If mental health problems are causing significant trouble in the life of the TBI patient, a psychiatrist can often prescribe drugs assisting with mood swings, depression, anxiety, and more.
Occupational therapists can be useful for many TBI patients, particularly for those sustaining moderate to severe levels of impairment following their accident. Such therapists can help patients with strategies and techniques for coping with every-day situations and events. Generally, these therapists will help patients with motor-skill related activities, such as brushing their hair, coordinating bodily movements, and more. In other cases, occupational therapists will assist their TBI patients with cognitive functioning and organization, making it easier for them to adapt to situations they may encounter in the home or office. For those who have suffered from strokes or problematic mental or physical impairment following a traumatic brain injury, an occupational therapist can be a useful guide along the route to recovery.
Chiropractors are doctors that generally help manage physical symptoms resulting from TBIs by manually treating joint, muscle, and bone pain. Whereas physical therapists (described below) often focus on re-teaching muscles and restoring a patient’s range of motion, chiropractors often deal with physical pain symptoms with a highly hands-on approach, adjusting problematic areas in a patient’s musculoskeletal system. For traumatic brain injury patients suffering from chronic back, should, neck, or spine pain, a chiropractor may be useful in addressing specific points of pressure and pain. Chiropractors, however, may not be as useful for TBI patients sustaining motor-function impairment as a result of their brain injury. For such individuals, a physical therapist will likely be more useful in restoring bodily function and movement. Chiropractors are best equipped to deal with physical pain that has occurred in conjunction with a brain injury, not necessarily because of it.
A physical therapist, often referred to as a PT, is a medical professional that nearly all TBI patients consult at some point along their journey to recovery. For moderate or severe cases of brain injury, a physical therapist may focus on aiding the patient in learning to walk and move normally again. This can be a long and trying process, as it requires re-training muscles and increasing the range of motion that certain limbs and muscles can make. For more mild cases of brain injury, a physical therapist may be involved with the physical pain resulting from their accident rather than direct motor-function impacts due to brain damage. For such patients, physical therapists are ideal for reducing back, neck, and shoulder pain. Individuals who have suffered from a TBI due to an auto accident will almost always benefit from a physical therapist’s treatment.
Note that you may need a doctor’s referral to access treatment by a physical therapist. Generally, most doctors are willing to refer TBI patients to a local PT.
Orthopedic doctors can offer much of the same care that a chiropractor or physical therapist can. Generally, orthopedic doctors specialize in certain regions of the body or certain medical conditions. If you would prefer to consult an orthopedic doctor, it is crucial to know whether or not he or she is experienced in dealing with TBI patients. For those suffering from physical pain and issues with bodily movement, an orthopedic doctor may be a member of a larger medical team, which generally includes physical therapists as well. Such doctors can help in dealing with physical symptoms that arise as a result of traumatic brain injury, or in conjunction with it. Troubles with the spine, back, or legs are just some of the many conditions orthopedic doctors may address.
Traumatic brain injuries may result in a number of symptoms, ranging from physical pain to mental and emotional impairment. Consider the severity of your TBI and your symptoms before deciding upon a medical treatment team. Contact the attorneys at Neufeld, Kleinberg, and Pinkiert today and get the legal counsel you need and deserve.