How do brains get damaged? Is yours?


Even a “little” hit to the head can cause problems that can last for years
But that’s not the ONLY way your brain can be damaged

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the TBI/PTSD Brain-based Series

In our attempt to understand ourselves and our environment, we often end up talking about the brain — “that three pound lump of jelly you can hold in the palm of your hand” ~ V.S. Ramachandran

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month
Brain Awareness Week
– March 13-19, 2017

More Common that you realize

Brain Injury can happen to anyone in the blink of an eye, whether it happens as the result of stroke, car accident, playing football, taking a tumble off a bike, or sometimes even when you trip and fall walking down the sidewalk.

After-effects can persist for years in some cases — and you don’t actually have to hit your head to bruise your brain, by the way.

The only brains most of us have ever seen are models, or brains that have been solidified by chemicals, leading us to believe that they are solid structures that are fairly rugged — and that it might take a significant hit to damage a brain.

Nope! The living brain is soft, floating around inside a fluid filled environment keeping it from bumping up against the inside of a hard skull that, in turn, is protecting the fragile brain itself.

The severity of brain damage can vary with the type of brain injury.

  • A mild brain injury is temporary, sometimes barely seeming to cause much of a problem at all, and often limited to headaches, confusion, memory problems and nausea when it does.
  • In a moderate brain injury, symptoms often last longer, can be more pronounced and can result in other challenges and impairments.

In the majority of cases of mild to moderate brain damage your brain recovers completely, as long as you give it time to heal.

Don’t let that encourage you to take brain injury lightly

Your brain can be easily injured bumping up against that bony skull, even when no hit to the head was involved in the original accident — especially the PFC [prefrontal cortex], the executive functioning portion right behind your forehead.

In addition to brain injuries that involve even limited damage to the skull, anything that makes the brain “slosh around” in the fluid in a manner that causes it to come in contact with the skull results in at least minor brain damage.  What frequently follows can be much worse.

Subsequent swelling or bleeding is a big problem with shaken baby syndrome, for example. I also learned from the overnight death of the young brother of a colleague that all children injured in sledding accidents need to be taken to the doctor to be checked out immediately – before you put them to bed.

Closed head injuries frequently result in what is called diffuse brain damage — damage to several areas of the brain — that also can cause a variety of subsequent problems with cognition, speech and language, vision, or difficulties getting other parts of the body to respond.

Anyone who has a head or brain injury needs immediate medical attention. Depending on the extent and location of the damage, brain injury that seems mild can be as dangerous as more overtly serious injuries.

The extent of potential brain damage is determined by neurological examination, usually including X-rays or brain scans, and neuro-psychological assessments that check out reflexes and cognitive abilities. After checking for brain bleeds and swelling, the first goal is to stabilize the patient to make sure that blood pressure is controlled, and that blood carrying oxygen is flowing to the brain to prevent further injury.

With the correct diagnosis and treatment that contains the damage, even more serious brain injuries do not necessarily have to result in long-term disability or impairment, although approximately half of severe injuries require surgery to repair a ruptured blood vessel or to relieve pressure on the brain.

Every brain injury is different – and ALL need time to heal

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Regardless of cause, brain injuries can range from mild to severe, with a majority of cases you hear about being concussions.

It can sometimes take many years for brains to heal from certain kinds of damage, but it always takes longer than a day or two for your brain to recover completely from even minor damage – and longer still if you suffer another injury while it’s still healing.

Football players eager to get back on the field aren’t the only ones who fail to understand why and how long they have to take it easy to avoid long-term damage, even when they believe they are ready to hard-charge it again.

You really do have to take it easy afterwards, just as you would if you’d injured an arm or a leg, but even more important.

Brain damage disrupts the brain’s normal functioning, and can affect thinking, understanding, word-retrieval and language skills, and/or memory, sometimes for years afterwards and sometimes not evident until years later.

Other than those who play professional sports, males between 15 and 24 are most vulnerable because they are the population most frequently engaging in risky behaviors. Young children and the aging also have a higher risk, probably because they are most likely to have balance challenges that result in falls.

Symptoms of Brain Injury

There are many, but negative effects cluster in what can be thought of in terms of three functional systems:

(1) intellect, which is the information-handling aspect of behavior;
(2) emotionality, which concerns feelings and motivations;  and
(3) control, which has to do with how behavior is expressed.
Source: Neuropsychological Assessment, 3nd  Ed., 1995,  by Muriel D. Lezak

These commonly include trouble with some or all of the following: 

• attention and concentration 
• short-term memory   • organizing/prioritizing
• impulsiveness   • task switching,
  and occasionally
• poor social skills   and   • mood swings.

EXCELLENT Related Post:
Lost & Found: What Brain Injury Survivors Want You to Know

Causes of Brain Injuries

In this article we won’t be looking at brain damage in the womb as part of a genetic or congenital disorder (fetal alcohol syndrome, for example) or damage to the fetus due to maternal illness or accident.

I also won’t cover in this post what is often referred to as Acquired Brain Injury [ABI] — brain damage due to disease, stroke, medication, alcohol and drug use, or oxygen deprivation. ABIs affect the brain at a cellular level, most often associated with pressure on the brain, or as the result of a neurological illness.

I want to focus on the kind of brain damage most likely to affect most of you who read and follow ADDandSoMuchMore.com — and the most commonly reported source of brain damage is trauma.

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