Anatomy and Physiology
Anatomically, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) results from a penetrating head injury or a closed head injury. A penetrating injury occurs when an object goes through the skull and enters the brain, while a closed injury occurs from any trauma that causes the brain to be violently shaken inside of the skull. This violent shaking causes the skull to instead of protect the brain, damage it.
The trauma from traumatic brain injuries can cause nerve cells within the brain to stretch, tear, or pull apart, making it extremely difficult or even impossible for the cells to send messages from one part of the brain to another, as well as to the rest of the body. This interferes with how the brain works, including thinking, remembering, seeing, and controlling movements, and therefore symptoms are never consistent with every case of traumatic brain injury.
Depending on severity, TBI can have many different symptoms
Traumatic brain injury can range from mild to very severe depending on many things, including the force of the trauma, previous brain injuries and how quickly emergency medical treatment is given. Symptoms may not be present or noticed at the time of injury. They can be delayed days or weeks before they appear, and this can lead some to go without being diagnosed for longer periods of time, increasing the danger of TBIs and the likelihood that the effects will be more severe. Most commonly, however, traumatic brain injuries are mild, and symptoms of this include:
- Visual disturbances
- Memory loss
- Poor attention/concentration
- Sleep disturbances
- Dizziness/loss of balance
- Irritability-emotional disturbances
- Feelings of depression
With more severe cases, the symptoms become endless, affecting every aspect of a person's life. To name a few, severe symptoms can include:
- Not understanding the spoken word (receptive aphasia)
- Difficulty speaking and being understood (expressive aphasia)
- Problems reading or writing
- Difficulties with interpretation of touch, temperature, movement
- Partial or total loss of vision
- Involuntary eye movements
- Decrease or loss of hearing
- Ringing in the ears
- Loss or diminished sense of smell
- Loss or diminished sense of taste
- Physical paralysis
- Chronic pain
- Loss of control of bowel and bladder
- Sleep disorders
- Inability to regulate body temperature
Mild traumatic brain injuries usually require no treatment other than rest and over-the-counter pain relievers to treat a headache. However, a person with a mild traumatic brain injury usually needs to be monitored closely at home for any persistent, worsening or new symptoms.
For more severe cases, there are many different kinds of treatments available, and they are usually executed in steps:
- Initial Treatment stabilizes the individual immediately following a traumatic brain injury.
- Rehabilitative Care Center Treatment helps restore the patient to daily life.
- Acute Treatment is aimed at minimizing secondary injury and the possibility of needing life support.
- Surgical Treatment may be used to prevent secondary injury as well by helping to maintain blood flow and oxygen to the brain and minimizing swelling and pressure.
Living with a person that has long-term effects from a TBI has its ups and downs.
My dad is now a retired officer from the US Army, but he didn't get two TBIs the way you might think based off of that. He was playing soccer in the OAC (Officer Advanced Course) and had a collision with another player. The player's head hit his face and broke his maxilla bone, causing the first TBI.
The second TBI occurred two weeks later and the mechanism of injury was the same. My dad was again playing soccer and hit another player's head. Both times, he was knocked unconscious and after the second one, more sever symptoms became noticeable.
My dad had severe headaches for months after the incident. Initially, he had serious short term memory problems and he couldn't process information. What was taking him 4 or 5 hours to do before was taking 30 to 40 after the second TBI. He couldn't complete his work and had trouble staying on task, which led to serious issues being that he was in the OAC at the time.
Even today he has short term memory issues, and will tell us the same stories over and over again. For many including my dad, it leads to frustration and some self esteem issues because you can't function as you were before, and some people don't understand that. The best thing to do as a friend or family member is to simply be supportive and don't discourage someone with long-effects from a TBI. In my family, we all listen to my dad as though it's the first time he is telling us one of his stories, and they really only get better with time.
The Gary Sinise Foundation serves our nation by honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders, and their families. More than 60% of the nation's TBI affected individuals are our veterans with causes ranging from blast damage to motor vehicle accidents to playing soccer in OAC.
Whether building specially adapted smart homes for severely wounded veterans, providing funds for our veterans to receive the medical treatment they need, lifting spirits at military medical centers, or supporting their families in times of need, they serve America’s heroes and their loved ones every day.One of their primary focuses within the veteran community is PTSD and TBIs. The foundation receives donations to help hundreds of people receive the help they need, and have been successful in doing just that.
Other organizations and foundations like this one have been established to help those with brain injuries to get the help that they need in order to return to their normal lives, and you can volunteer or donate to help or to simply raise awareness.