Traumatic Brain Injuries

By Marianne Curtis

For decades, doctors have been studying patients to see what side effects, if any, that they may suffer as a result of traumatic brain injury. Fascination on this subject grew immensely when an unusual case surfaced back in 1848.

Phineas Gage was working as a railroad foreman when a freak accident caused a 13-pound tamping pole to blast its way through his skull. It entered Gage’s head below the left eye and exited through the top of his skull. Surprisingly Gage survived this major trauma to his brain. It was through studying Gage that doctors discovered that damage to the frontal lobe negatively affects thoughts and ideas.[1]

While Gage may have been one of the first reported cases on the result of traumatic brain injury, doctors have been studying patients ever since. It is hoped that by studying recovering patients, doctors can further understand the most complex organ in our body – our brain.

According to the Center for Speech, Language and Occupational Therapy Inc. a traumatic brain injury, occurs approximately once every 16 seconds and annually affects over 700,000 individuals in North America. Not surprisingly, most occur in automobile accidents.[2] Any injury sustained by a blow to the head can potentially cause a traumatic brain injury. Closed injuries, otherwise known as concussions, usually occur in incidents involving a fall during every day activities. What they both have in common is that an array of behavior and language changes can and do occur in a majority of patients.

Recently I spoke to a Landmark teen who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of a car accident. It was through talking to him that I understood how an accident can cause memory loss, speech impairments, and in some ways, a complete personality change. In this case, Lex[3] spent several days in a coma. When he finally woke up, doctors discovered that he could recall his life up the accident, but that particular day and the collision were beyond the reach of his memory. The first few weeks were also spent dealing with severe short-term memory loss. At first he could only recall about a minute at a time, but as his brain healed his memory slowly returned.

It has been almost a year since Lex’s accident, and he still can not recall what actually occurred that evening. According to his parents, the once quiet, well mannered teenager now angers easy and is prone to fits of rage. At one point he was hospitalized by his family because of his sudden uncharacteristic behavior.

Research done over the years has proved that a person can experience physical, mental, and behavior changes as a result of a traumatic head injury. Individuals may have problems speaking, seeing, hearing, and using their other senses. They may have headaches and feel tired a lot. Trouble with skills such as writing or drawing can occur. Muscles may suddenly contract or tighten, seizures may occur while balance and walking may also be affected.

Because the brain has been injured, it is common that the person’s ability to use their brain also changes. Trouble with either long or short term memory is common, making it difficult for individuals to focus their attention and concentrate. Thinking may slow, along with listening and speaking abilities. Reading, writing, planning and understanding, along with impaired judgment can also occur.

 And lastly, social, behavioural and emotional problems can occur resulting in sudden changes in mood, combined with anxiety and depression. Children may be restless and cry a lot. A difficulty in the ability to relate with others can also cause problems, including self-esteem issues, employment, educational and motivational issues.[4]

 Another thing that has been discovered is that the lasting effects sustained as a result of a traumatic brain injury can change over time. According to Dr. Jay Uomoto, Ph.D.[5] these changes are a result of development and life stages that occur throughout a persons life. He says that in childhood, a student that has suffered an injury may require extra tutoring to help them make the grade. Self-esteem issues can also arise because children may get embarrassed if there are physical and mental disabilities associated to their injury. Teenagers may have a heightened reaction to normal adolescent development issues. In adulthood, brain injuries have been known to lead to difficulty during transitions in life, such as the completion of college, marriages, parenting, and job issues.[6]

 It should be noted that not every person that suffers a traumatic brain injury will have any of these symptoms. Injuries can range from mild to sever, and can change over time.

 There is help for individuals that have sustained a brain injury. They are often sent to see a neuropsychologist, who can evaluate how a brain injury affects learning, communication, planning, organizational skills and relationships with others. Once the causes of the behavior are understood, the neuropsychologist can recommend strategies and help parents and family members respond to behaviors.

 Over a hundred and fifty years ago little was known about how the brain can be affected after a traumatic head injury. Now, after decades of research doctors understand that there is a direct connection between significant changes in an individual after an accident.

 By understanding these changes and their causes, a person that has been affected by such an injury has a better chance of recovery, while family members and loved ones receive as much support as possible to help them deal with the sometimes unexpected changes that their loved .


Source: Understanding Psychology (page 166)

Kay, Thomas, Ph.D., “Minor Head Injury: An Introduction for Professionals.”   U.S. Dept. of Education, 1986

Dr. Jay Uomoto, Ph.D. Life Changes After Brain Injury Jun 9, 2003

[1] Source: Understanding Psychology (page 166)

[3] not his real name

[4] Kay, Thomas, Ph.D., “Minor Head Injury: An Introduction for Professionals.”   U.S. Dept. of Education, 1986.

[5] Dr. Jay Uomoto, Ph.D. Life Changes After Brain Injury Jun 9, 2003


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