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Overview of Brain Injury
An Overview of Brain Injury
What is brain injury?
The brain controls everything we do, say, think and feel. It controls the very functions that keep us alive: breathing, circulation, digestion, hormones and the immune system. It is through the brain that we experience emotion and personal expression.
A brain injury is damage to living brain tissue caused by an external or internal insult (e.g. blow to the head, excessive force like shaking/whiplash, bleeding inside the brain, inflammation/swelling, virus that attacks brain, etc.) that may result in temporary or permanent cognitive, physical, behavioral and/or emotional changes. There may or may not be a period of unconsciousness immediately following the event. Because no two brains are the same, the results of a brain injury, which can affect different areas of the brain depending on the type and severity of accident, vary widely from person-to-person.
Major causes of brain injury include falls, motor vehicle crashes, violence, concussions, bicycle crashes, lack of oxygen from cardiac arrest, aneurysms, strokes and tumors. Illness that can cause inflammation of the brain, such as encephalitis, may also result in a brain injury. The only known cure for brain injury is prevention.
Brain injury happens to persons throughout all communities, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, socio-economic class, age or any other variable. Native Americans and African-Americans, however, generally have a higher incidence of brain injury than others.
Mild brain injury, the most common brain injury, may occur with no loss of consciousness or noticeable physical injury. Persons with mild brain injury may experience symptoms and impairments that are temporary or permanent. A concussion is a mild form of brain injury. Unfortunately, many mild brain injuries go undiagnosed for weeks, months or even years after the injury.
Some people believe that when the brain is injured, it can mend completely – like a broken arm. Unfortunately, brain cells do not regenerate like skin or bone cells. Rehabilitating from a brain injury takes time because damaged cells need to relearn how to do things while the brain uses healthy cells to compensate.
Possible Cognitive Changes:
- Short-term or long-term memory loss
- Slowed processing of information
- Impaired judgement
- Trouble concentrating or paying attention
- Difficulty keeping up with conversation; trouble finding words
- Spatial disorientation
- Difficulty organizing or problem solving
- Inability to do more than one thing at a time
- Difficulty with language or speech production
Possible Physical Changes:
- Fatigue, increased need for sleep
- Sensory loss or impairment
- Blurred or double vision
- Headaches or migraines
- Trouble with balance and dizziness
- Decreased motor abilities
- Sexual dysfunction
- Muscle control and balance problems
- Ringing in the ears
- Hormonal changes
Possible Emotional Changes:
- Depression, grief over loss of ability, or chemical changes caused by the injury
- Anxiety, restlessness, agitation
- Lower tolerance for stress
- Irritability, frustration, impatience
- Mood swings
- Impulsiveness and lack of inhibition
- Emotional flatness and passivity
After brain injury, individuals vary on how they define or adjust to the changes in their life. Persons who survive brain injury often find that things will never be the same. Fortunately, many rehabilitation and treatment programs can help persons with brain injury rebuild their lives and achieve more independence.
While it is important to understand changes that may have a negative impact, the best resources for recovery are an individual's current strengths, abilities and interests. As many individuals with brain injury have said: "It's not about what you lost – it's about how you use what you have left!"
Continue to the next section, "About the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance."