Although the human brain is surrounded by protective fluid and encased in the hard shell of the skull, it is still possible for it to be severely injured or damaged. Thanks to modern technology, we are beginning to arrive at what still may be a primitive understanding of the various parts of our brains, how they work, and how traumatic injury affects patients’ ability to regain some or most of their functioning.
The parietal lobe is one of the four lobes that make up the cerebellum, or control center, of the brain. Located at the back of the head directly under the skull bone, it assists in the processing of visual images and other sensory input. When you touch a hot stove, it is this part of the brain that perceives the danger and sends an urgent message to your muscles to move your hand. If damage is sustained to the parietal lobe, a person would most likely have difficulty reading, recognizing people and objects, and having a comprehensive awareness of his or her own body and limbs and their positioning in space. For those with traumatic brain injuries to this area, the ability to multi-task is reduced or eliminated, as is mathematical ability and recognition of the difference between right and left.
As is the case with other traumatic brain injuries, damage to the parietal lobe most often occurs as a result of vehicle crashes, falls, and firearms. Taking steps to prevent these injuries could save you or a loved one a lifetime of the added stress that accompanies traumatic brain injuries. These include: always wearing seat belts; making sure children are in safety or booster seats at all times; wearing helmets when biking, riding a motorcycle, scooter, sled, snowmobile, etc. or when playing contact sports; removing tripping hazards around your home; using non-slip shower mats; installing rails on both sides of stairways, and making sure there is good lighting throughout your home. However, once brain injuries occur, there is no cure. The goal of treatment and rehabilitation is to assist the patient in strengthening the skills he or she continues to possess, while helping to find compensatory strategies for adaptation of those that are lacking.
When an individual is suspected to have a traumatic brain injury, a team of specialists assembles to guide the patient and family through the recovery process. In most cases, this group consists of several persons. A physiatrist, skilled in neurology and orthopedics, will use techniques of physical and medical rehabilitation to help the patient to regain as much functioning as possible. A neuropsychologist will run tests to ascertain what aspects of “competence” have been lost as a result of the injury. The patient’s motor functioning, including strength, balance, coordination and movement, will be assessed by a physical therapist, who will suggest exercises and strategies for improvement. A speech consultant will be called in to focus on helping the patient with skills of expression, comprehension, and communication. Finally, a social worker generally acts as a liaison to facilitate dialogue among the patient, family, and various team members.
Initially, a number of tests are conducted to accurately determine the location and extent of the injury and to assess what skills and abilities may have suffered. These measures include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computer tomography (CT scans), x-rays, and other specialized tests. After the initial assessments have been conducted, the patient will generally undergo a period of rehabilitation, the duration and intensity of which will depend on the severity of the patient’s injuries. Since the parietal lobe handles functions of cognition and perception, treatment will involve strengthening existing skills in these areas and then advancing to techniques for adopting new methods of planning, reasoning and decision-making.
Because each injury is unique and affects its victim differently, a good treatment plan will be one that enables recovery to occur in a way and at a pace that is comfortable for the patient. Throughout what can often be many months of frustrating and grueling rehabilitation intervention, care must be taken to include family members in as many of the discussions and practical instruction sessions as possible. Consistency and communication across disciplines are two of the most essential ingredients in a successful rehabilitation plan.
As was stated above, the goal of this multi-disciplinary intervention is not to eliminate all signs of traumatic brain injury, but instead to assist the patient and family members in understanding the new reality in which they will live. Patience and perseverance will be absolutely essential for all involved. Since parietal lobe damage causes marked deficits in focus and perception, a patient might have to thoroughly overhaul many of his or her most basic coping and human relations strategies. By no means will this process be easy. However, with the care and expertise of all members of the team, the patient can often improve far above and beyond his or her expectations.