Someone I Love Has a Traumatic Brain Injury: What Now?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when the skull experiences a violent blow, jolt, or penetration, usually due to a fall, collision, explosion, or general violence. A TBI can range from mild, with only temporary processing problems, to serious, with physical damage to the brain that results in more complex and long-term complications. The symptoms of a TBI will vary, based on whether the injury is mild or severe. Symptoms can include loss of consciousness or a state of being dazed and confused, vomiting and fatigue, loss of coordination, convulsions, unusually agitated behavior, sensory dysfunction like blurred vision or ringing in the ears, and cognitive challenges such as memory problems, mood swings, slurred speech, and depression. While no one symptom alone will definitely indicate a TBI, some symptoms together will indicate a definite problem.

Since traumatic brain injuries can lead to a complex range of complications, it’s important to understand the different treatment options. Complications will range from a minimally conscious state to a coma, and can include physical issues as well as intellectual problems that require attention. Oftentimes cognitive abilities and daily functioning tasks are no longer easy or possible for the person who suffers a TBI. Treatment must acknowledge and handle each problem appropriately.

Ø Intensive Care Unit (ICU): The doctor will help the TBI patient achieve medical stability and prevent any further crises. Typically patients in the ICU are still unconscious or unstable.

Ø Acute Rehabilitation: As soon as a patient is no longer in need of ICU services, he is transferred to receive acute rehabilitation with the goal of regaining daily living abilities like dressing, eating, walking, and speaking.

Ø Postacute Rehabilitation: Once the goals of acute rehabilitation have been reached, post-acute rehab helps patients return to independent living as efficiently as possible. This often requires learning new means of accomplishing daily tasks due to injury.

Ø Subacute Rehabilitation: This exists for patients who are not yet ready for the intensive nature of postacute rehabilitation. Subacute rehab can provide therapy over a longer period of time to help the patient make progress at his own pace.

Ø Outpatient Therapy: After postacute or subacute rehabilitation has been successful, a patient is prepared to be released and receive therapy to enhance and maintain recovery.

Ø Community Re-entry: For TBI patients who suffered significant cognitive damage, community re-entry programs help develop motor, social, and cognitive skills to assist in returning to normal life. Skill focuses include interacting with others, managing finances, and exercising safety in the community.

Ø Independent Living Programs: For patients unable to support themselves sufficiently after a traumatic brain injury, these living programs help them regain independence skills.

Physiatrists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, rehabilitation nurses, case managers, and neuropsychologists can all be involved in the recuperation process, as well as friends, family members, and other major stakeholders in the patient’s life. The recovery road may be short or long, but rest assured there are many highly qualified experts prepared to use proven methods to help your loved one successfully come through the healing process.