It is a common misconception that a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is like a broken bone: an injury with an isolated source, easily identifiable physical implications, and short-term impairment of the affected area. In reality, however, a brain injury is far more complicated. As neurologists Brent E. Masel and Douglas S. DeWitt describe it, a TBI is “a disease process, not an event.” This means that a brain injury is not the “final outcome of an insult to an isolated body system,” but a “chronic disease” that requires ongoing (and perhaps lifelong) treatment and consideration.
“TBI increases long-term mortality and reduces life expectancy,” Masel and DeWitt write in an abstract on the subject. “It is associated with increased incidences of seizures, sleep disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, neuroendocrine dysregulation, and psychiatric diseases, as well as non-neurological disorders such as sexual dysfunction, bladder and bowel incontinence, and systemic metabolic dysregulation that may arise and/or persist for months to years post-injury.” The purpose of these observations, the men say, is not to dishearten those who face such obstacles, but to encourage them to treat their injury as a chronic illness rather than a temporary ailment. In a similar fashion, the men’s purpose is to encourage insurance providers to consider traumatic brain injury a process. If the chronic nature of TBI can be recognized by insurance companies and government organizations alike, “research can be directed at discovering therapies that may interrupt the disease processes months or even years after the initiating event,” they say.
Looking for a brain injury support group in South Carolina? Financial assistance for your injury? Information on recovery? Fortunately, the state is filled with resources that exist to ease the painful processes of diagnosis and rehabilitation. It’s only a matter of finding and utilizing them.
For a list of general resources composed by the Brain Injury Alliance of South Carolina, click here. This is where you’ll find contact information for organizations like the state’s Vocational Rehabilitation Department, Brain Injury Leadership Council, and Head and Spinal Cord Injury Division of the Department of Disabilities Special Needs. You’ll also find resources for information on brain injury in children.
For a list of support group contacts and schedules, click here. Meetings take place regularly in over a dozen cities across the state, including Charleston, Aiken, Spartanburg, Greenville, Columbia, and Beaufort. Support groups a great way to learn about your injury and to meet others facing the challenges of an injury similar to your own. They provide an opportunity for expression, socialization, and education, and are a critical part of the recovery process.
And finally, for information on legal services in the state, click here.
A TBI is a life-altering injury. Though it cannot be cured, it’s not always be debilitating. To make the most of your rehabilitation, take advantage of the resources and information available above, and know that you’re not alone.
In the second video of this three-part series, the Brain Injury Association of New York talks to the family members of veterans who sustained head trauma in battle about healing and the recovery process.
In its simplest form, a neural prosthesis is a device that can substitute a motor, sensory, or cognitive modality that has been damaged as a result of injury or disease. There are several types of neuroprosthetics, including Cochlear implants (to stimulate one’s auditory nerves), lumbar anterior root implants (to assist paraplegic individuals in standing upright), and visual prosthetics (to stimulate one’s optical nerves). The science of these prostheses is of the utmost importance to brain injury survivors, as its materialization offers victims hope for regaining the functional abilities compromised by injury.
Take Ladelle Morton, for example, who after being paralyzed as a result of TBI for two-and-a-half decades, has begun learning to move and walk again with the assistance of a neuroprosthesis. “Morton was shot in the head, and after years of physical and speech therapy, she’s worked her way back to a normal life,” an ABC article reads about the survivor. “Two months ago, she began using [an] electronic device that does the job her brain used to do. It tells the muscles in her leg to work by giving them little shocks.” This device, or neuroprosthetic, creates muscle contractions in designated areas of her body, and in turn, strengthens those muscles and “reminds” them of how an activity such as walking or lifting feels. The longer she uses the device, the easier the activity and the better the muscle memory becomes.
Just another step in the right direction for brain injury researchers and survivors alike.
It’s not a particularly common term, but it’s certainly one that’s extremely relevant to traumatic brain injury survivors: neuroplasticity. Defined as “the brain’s ability to change,” brain plasticity is a concept that is at once very simple and incredibly complex. It is a physical process that reflects changes in neural pathways, and it manifests itself in both the slightest and greatest of ways. Each time you meet a new person, visit a new place, or learn a new dance move, your brain’s “wires” reconfigure themselves in such a way that the information can be stored and remembered. In a similar fashion, the degradation or severance of these pathways is responsible for the incidents in which you forget someone’s name or lose an aptitude for a hobby. Therefore, the acts of both learning and forgetting are predominantly neurological processes.
What does this mean for brain-injured individuals? That there is always hope. Aside from—or in addition to—a medicinal approach to treatment, plasticity exercises can provide a powerful avenue for healing. Though challenging, the repetition inherent in such exercises has been known to help victims relearn skills that they thought were lost forever.
It’s important to talk to your doctor or treatment provider about brain plasticity and the impact its existence can have on you or your loved one’s healing process. For a list of healthy activities for you and your brain, click here. And don’t wait until you’ve sustained an injury to get your mind in shape—it’s never too early to strengthen one of your body’s most vital organs.
“A recent retrospective study by four Michigan physicians shows strong evidence that symptoms of headache, dizziness and anxiety in some patients with traumatic brain injury potentially could be alleviated or even eliminated with specialized eyeglass lenses containing prisms,” a University of Michigan Health Systems press release reported last week.
The study involved three doctors and 43 TBI patients, and the findings suggest that the brain injuries of those who sustain them appear to be causing visual image misalignment — a condition called “vertical heterophoria.” In turn, the eye muscles are overexerted as they strain to realign the victim’s line of sight. A slew of post-concussive symptoms result, including headaches, dizziness, anxiety, and neck pain. The study’s use of prismatic eyeglass lenses to reduce eye muscle overwork led to a 71.8 percent reduction of patient’s symptoms.
“Treatment involves a multifaceted approach, including physical therapy, occupational therapy and multiple medications, and can take years to complete,” says Jennifer E. Doble, M.D., a physiatrist at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital. ”Prismatic lens treatment seems to allow the other therapies to be effective more quickly. And as a result, patients get better quicker, reducing the time and cost of caring for this patient population.”
“Severe depression within the first year of a traumatic brain injury is common but treatment is not,” Washington state researchers recently reported in the May 19th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In a study they performed, the incidence of major depression among 559 people with traumatic brain injury was nearly eight times greater than would be expected in the general population—53 percent were diagnosed with the condition within one year of sustaining their injuries. Of those, nearly half had no history of prior depression. Additionally, it was found that only 45 percent of those who became depressed upon sustaining a TBI were likely to receive adequate treatment.
“For a variety of reasons, the investigators say the rates of major depression after traumatic brain injury are probably ‘conservative’ and underestimate the problem,” a Reuters Health article reports on the matter. “The investigators urge making mental health services part of the normal care of patients with a traumatic brain injury.”
If you or a loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury, be aware of this increased risk of depression. Symptoms to watch for include an apathetic mood, low energy level, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, and thoughts of death or self-harm. ”Brain injury is a lifelong issue,” Mary Hibbard, director of psychology at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, says. “Individuals with brain injury remain at risk for development of depression at any point after injury, so a periodic, routine screening every six months should be a standard of care.”
A study funded by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs is showing potentially promising results with regard to the impact of familiar voices on the recovery of brain-injured patients in a comatose state.
According to a Chicago Sun-Times article on the matter, Karen Schroeder says “she was ‘grasping at straws’ when she was asked to enroll her son in a clinical trial to determine whether hearing familiar voices can have a positive therapeutic effect on traumatic brain-injury patients.” Four weeks later–after listening to stories told by each of his three immediate family members four times a day–Karen’s 22-year-old son, Ryan, began to regain consciousness.
It isn’t yet clear whether the family’s recordings were the direct cause of Ryan’s initial recovery (the study is double-blind and not even the researchers know which patient hears familiar voices and which hears silence through the headphones he or she wears), but his improvement is nevertheless miraculous. Today, just over a year after his injury, Ryan is able to talk, text, and even play his xBox with only minor difficulty.
The results of the study will be revealed next year upon its culmination. To learn more or to enroll in the trial (which is still seeking new participants), call (708) 202-2414.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered that a compound in dark chocolate may protect the brain after a stroke by increasing cellular signals already known to shield nerve cells from damage.
“Ninety minutes after feeding mice a single modest dose of epicatechin, a compound found naturally in dark chocolate, the scientists induced an ischemic stroke by essentially cutting off blood supply to the animals’ brains. They found that the animals that had preventively ingested the epicatechin suffered significantly less brain damage than the ones that had not been given the compound,” an article reports on the study.
The amount of dark chocolate needed to produce similar results in humans is yet to be known, but Sylvain Doire, Ph.D., says his research suggests the amount needed could end up being quite small because the suspected beneficial mechanism is indirect. “Epicatechin itself may not be shielding brain cells from free radical damage directly, but instead, epicatechin, and its metabolites, may be prompting the cells to defend themselves,” he suggests.