Coping with Traumatic Brain Injury
Like most parts of our bodies, our brains are delicate organs that are susceptible to injury and damage. While our skulls effectively encase and protect our brains, severe blows to the head can cause mild to serious brain trauma that may have permanent effects.
Unfortunately, those who suffer permanent brain damage, also known as traumatic brain injury (TBI), will not be able to carry on with life in a normal fashion: because our brains control everything from our breathing and heart beats to our muscle reflexes and speech capacity, traumatic brain injury patients may be unable to walk, talk and even breathe by themselves.
Consequently, coping with traumatic brain injury requires tailoring treatment to an individual patient's type and level of brain damage. Keep in mind, however, that coping with TBI may also require the patient's family and loved ones to seek support and treatment, usually through therapy.
What is Traumatic Brain Injury?
By definition, traumatic brain injury is the result of any permanent brain damage due to being shaken roughly or suffering blows to the head. A car crash, a fall from a significant height or even physical abuse can all cause traumatic brain injury.
Immediately after incurring a TBI, patients will first need acute treatment, which aims to stabilize them and prevent further injury. For those coping with moderate to severe traumatic brain injury, further treatment to rehabilitate the patient (sub-acute treatment) and deal with long-term disabilities (chronic treatment) is necessary.
Once afflicted with TBI, people will need the help of their families, doctors and therapists to relearn skills and, in the most serious cases, to survive. For many, coping with traumatic brain injury involves:
- physical rehabilitation
- mental rehabilitation
- emotional support, both for the patient and the family
Coping with the Physical Complications of TBI
While mild traumatic brain injury may not require any physical rehabilitation, for the more serious cases, coping with the physical complications of TBI often requires surgery to:
- open up airways so patients can breathe
- promote proper blood circulation throughout the body
- remove any blood clots (thrombosis)
Similarly, doctors will also monitor patients' brains to prevent swelling, also known as edema. Because the brain is located in the inflexible skull, edema and/or the buildup of intracranial fluid can put tremendous pressure on the brain's soft tissues, causing a dangerous increase in intracranial pressure (ICP). If a patient's ICP is too high, he or she may suffer further brain damage or possibly death.
To monitor and prevent life-threatening increases of ICP, doctors may implant an ICP monitor beneath patients' skulls to help them easily read and treat fluctuations in intracranial pressure.
Physical rehabilitation for traumatic brain injury may also include:
- medication to prevent seizures
- regular doctors' visits to check for and treat possible infections (TBI patients are more likely to develop infections, including thrush and pneumonia.)
- physical therapy to help patients regain motor skills, coordination and/or the ability to walk.
Mental Rehabilitation and TBI Education
Coping with traumatic brain injury requires that patients treat the mental complications of TBI, along with the physical damage. In general, mental traumatic brain injury rehabilitation focuses on:
- re-developing language skills
- re-teaching patients how to develop and maintain social relationships
- re-teaching patients how to interact at work or in other public environments.
- During the process of mental rehabilitation, it's also important that families of TBI patients learn more about the condition so they can treat and help the patient cope with traumatic brain injury.
Families can get traumatic brain injury education through:
- attending support groups, as others dealing with TBI can have tips and suggestions on dealing with this condition
- reading books
- researching TBI on the Internet
- talking with doctors, including surgeons, physical therapists and psychotherapists.
Therapy and Emotional Support for TBI
The final step to coping with traumatic brain injury is developing and working with a support team to help patients (and families) deal with the emotional effects of experiencing TBI.
Because traumatic brain injury will dramatically impede a person's ability to function (either physically, mentally or both), TBI patients may become depressed, anxious or otherwise emotionally disturbed. Consequently, attending therapy, going to support groups and possibly taking medication may be necessary to help TBI patients learn to accept and work with their new abilities.
Patients' families may also become depressed or anxious due to the change in their loved one and the added responsibility of caring for the traumatic brain injury patient. In these cases, family therapy (either with or without the patient), as well as support groups, can help families learn how to cope with their own feelings and find strength in talking with others who have similar experiences.