Texas Brain Injury Alliance

A-Z of Brain Injury

A: Acquired Brain Injury

A: Acquired Brain Injury

An Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) is an injury to the brain that is not hereditary, congenital, degenerative, or induced by birth trauma. Examples of ABI include stroke, meningitis, encephalitis, seizure, tumor, and drug overdose. 

B:Balance

B: Balance

Poor balance can be the cause of brain injuries (i.e falls) or it can be a symptom that develops from a brain injury. The Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center reports that nearly 50% of TBI survivors will have loss of balance or dizziness following their brain injury.

C: Concussion

C: Concussion

A concussion is a form of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). It is caused by a blow, jolt or bump to the head or body. Concussions should be taken seriously. Remember:

  • A concussion/mTBI is an injury to the brain, not just “seeing stars.”
  • Most people will recover completely within 2-3 weeks if given the proper periods of rest and a gradual return to activities.
  • Repeated concussions occurring over an extended period can result in cumulative neurological and cognitive effects.
D: Depression

D: Depression

Depression can be common after a brain injury. For example, within the first year of their recovery, nearly half of TBI survivors report experiencing depression. If you are experiencing depression, talk to a healthcare provider as they can assist in identifying medications and counseling options that might be beneficial to you.

E: Emotions

E: Emotions

Many people report difficulty with emotions and ‘moods’ during their brain injury recovery. There may or may not be triggers associated with these intense emotions, which can be confusing for family members, caregivers, and individuals themselves. At times, these emotions can cause anxiety, or develop into depression. 

F: Fatigue

F: Fatigue

Fatigue is a frustrating barrier that often occurs after brain injury. It can impact the ability to return to work, participate in activities, or complete tasks at home. Gradual increases in activity can help, as well as avoiding substances and stimulants.

G: Gray Matter

G: Gray Matter

Areas of the brain that have a dense amount of nerve cells are known as gray matter. Gray matter is important for our cognitive/higher level functions. The Cerebral Cortex is the outer layer of the brain that is made up of gray matter. This area gives the brain its bumpy or ridge-like appearance.

H: Helmet

H: Helmet

In 2016 a worldwide study was conducted that looked at 64,000 cyclists. The study found that wearing a helmet while biking reduced the risk of a serious head injury by about 70 percent and reduced the risk of a fatal head injury by 65 percent.

I: Income After Brain Injury

I: Income After Brain Injury

Many people who receive a disability from a brain injury find themselves unable to return to work full-time or at all. This loss of income and financial insecurity can have a profound impact on the mental health and quality of life of the person with the brain injury and their loved ones. Fortunately, Social Security benefits exist that directly address brain injury as a category. The social security application process can be drawn out. Preparing for your appointment can help. The Disability Starter Kit is a good way to organize your documentation prior to a call.

J: Justice System

J: Justice System

According to Dr. Kim Gorgens, Professor in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver, between 50 and 80 percent of all incarcerated individuals have a brain injury. Compared to the 5 to 9 percent of the general population, this number is shockingly high. Women in prisons have a higher rate of brain injury due to the prevalence of domestic violence. Currently, legislation is being written to provide neuropsychological exams for incarcerated individuals in order to address issues that might affect recidivism. Also, brain injury screenings for crime victims are being sought in order to address issues that tend to lead to the victims of crime ending up a part of the justice system themselves. 

K: Key Words

K: Key Words

Often, when a person with a brain injury is navigating the medical system, certain words and phrases pop up over and over that might not get explained in a way that the average person can understand. It helps to have a glossary of key words you might encounter on hand to consult when talking with doctors, lawyers, or any provider. It’s well within your rights to offer an “Excuse me one second” and pull out your list. A list of common words with easy definitions can be found below. The empowerment you feel when you can follow a conversation with your care team is a vital part of self-advocacy.

L: Light Sensitivity

L: Light Sensitivity

Light sensitivity, or photophobia, occurs in about 40 percent of people with brain injuries. Photophobia can cause discomfort, pain, headaches or migraines from even moderate levels of lighting. It often accompanies symptoms of blurred vision, double vision or eye strain, but is frequently a stand alone symptom. Light sensitivity from a brain injury can lead to increased fatigue, cognitive issues and dizziness. Photophobia can be caused by damage to many different parts of the brain: the thalamus which moderates input from the senses; the superior colliculus which controls the eye muscles; the vestibular system which works with the visual center of the brain to orient a person in space. If you are experiencing light sensitivity, a brain injury clinic will be able to recommend an eye specialist who can help you begin alleviating your symptoms. 

To find a potential provider, contact your physician or locate a provider near you through the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association

M: Mental Health

M: Mental Health

Mental health and brain injury go hand in hand. For reasons related to the injury directly, or for reasons related to a person’s sudden change in employment status, income level, or social isolation, brain injury can lead to depression, anxiety and anger. Often, people in demographics and populations most affected by brain injury also have dramatic mental health disparities compared to the general population. Service members and veterans, incarcerated individuals, people experiencing homelessness, people in lower income areas without health insurance, and survivors of domestic violence all have higher rates of mental health issues than people outside of those groups.

When mental health issues appear in someone with a brain injury, the symptoms can go unnoticed or conflated, leading to improper treatment or skepticism from providers. This can lead to distrust of the medical system and the person at the center of it can find themselves caught in a vicious cycle. It is important that a person’s mental health receives the same care and attention as their physical health. A mental health therapist or psychiatrist might be consulted to help a person find a path to better mental health, easing their road to recovery. If you or a loved one are in need of services, Mental Health Texas provides information, resources and direction to Texas residents who may have mental health related needs or who want to support someone who does.

N: Neuroplasticity

N: Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is when the brain rewires itself to create new pathways. Neuroplasticity can play an important role in the recovery process after an injury because it means the brain can work on rerouting itself to go around the damaged area or it can allow for undamaged areas of the brain to take over that “real estate”.

O: Occipital Lobe

O: Occipital Lobe

The Occipital Lobe is the lobe known for housing our visual functioning. It is fairly protected so it is not incredibly known to be susceptible to damage; however, when it is damaged, it can impact our vision in different ways. It can cause blind spots, blurred vision, double vision, etc. There are specialists (neuro-ophthalmologists, neuro-optometrists, etc.) that can assist in diagnosing and treating vision impairments after a brain injury.

P: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

P: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health diagnosis that can occur after someone experiences a traumatic or life threatening event. People can confuse and/or misdiagnose PTSD and brain injury because they have several overlapping symptoms and brain injuries can be sustained in traumatic ways which can cause PTSD to develop; however, these two diagnoses are different. Work on finding a professional who understands both brain injury and PTSD and how they interact with each other.

Q: Quick Tips

Q: Quick Tips

Navigating the world of brain injury can be stressful and overwhelming. Take 4 quick tips for when you or someone you know finds out they have sustained a brain injury:

  • See a medical professional: Even if you haven’t been knocked out, if you feel that you may have sustained a brain injury, you need to see a medical professional immediately.
  • We’re here to help! Contact us for support, information and resources.
  • Get informed: Recovery is different for everyone, but arming yourself with a knowledge of what to expect can help you identify problems as they arise, and find solutions.
  • Join a support group: Talking to people who have been through similar experiences can be affirming, and you can learn new ways to move forward through brain injury.
R: Relationships

R: Relationships

Relationships often look very different after brain injury. Your marriage, family responsibilities, friendship roles and more can be affected. Educating those around you and finding coping strategies for communication and intimacy struggles are important to improving these relationships.

S: Support Group

S: Support Group

There are support groups all around the country that are specifically for brain injury survivors and their loved ones. These support groups can range from local in-person options to virtual options at a national level! Find a support group through the Office of Acquired Brain Injury’s interactive map.

T: Traumatic Brain Injury

T: Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is caused by an external force to the head or body that causes the brain to jolt inside the skull. The most common causes include falls, motor vehicle crashes and assaults. TBIs can affect thinking, sensation, behavior, language, emotional and physical functioning.

U: Understanding Caregivers

U: Understanding Caregivers

Brain injury affects the whole family. Often, family members find themselves suddenly in a caregiver role, as they deal with ambiguous loss and an overwhelming amount of information.

V: Vestibular Therapy

V: Vestibular Therapy

Someone might experience vestibular dysfunction after sustaining a brain injury which means they could experience dizziness, vertigo and imbalance, etc. Vestibular therapy can assist with lessening these symptoms by encouraging the brain to use other senses to compensate for deficits in the vestibular system through specialized exercises.

W: Wernicke’s Aphasia

W: Wernicke’s Aphasia

Aphasia is a disorder that might be diagnosed after a brain injury and it affects the comprehension and expression of language. There are two specific types of aphasia that are diagnosed based on how language after a brain injury presents itself. One is called Wernicke’s Aphasia. Wernicke’s Aphasia affects the comprehension of language. Someone diagnosed with this type of aphasia might use words that seem random in the sentence or they might make up words but speech still seems to flow properly when having a conversation.

X: X-Ray and MRI

X: X-Ray and MRI

Scans can be important in the early detection of brain injuries. A series of x-rays can make up a CT scan which is used to detect skull fractures, brain bleeds and swelling. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is another scan that might be used to help detect a brain injury. This scan can look further into the damage that has occurred to assist in the prognosis of the brain injury.

Y: Youth

Y: Youth

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported to Congress in 2018 that of all the age groups, children have the highest rate of emergency room visits from TBI. While this can be attributable to parents being more inclined to take a child to the hospital than an adult might be inclined to take themselves, it speaks to a specific problem: brain injury affects children differently than it affects adults.

A brain injury in a child can impact the way their brain, and any system in the body connected to the brain (all of them), develops as the child ages. Behavioral and cognitive changes might be mistaken for developmental changes or learning disabilities. Older children might experience ostracization from peers, affecting their mental health. It is important that all children with brain injuries have an active and supporting team of medical providers as well as an active and supportive team of educational providers.

Parents need to take an active role in communicating with teachers and administrators about their child’s needs (eg., obtaining an IEP or 504 plan) as well as training their children in self-advocacy. Children who can connect with other children with brain injuries often find a sense of empowerment that can be missing in the friend groups. Fortunately, a child’s brain is adaptable, but that adaptation takes time and patience from guardians and professionals as well as a healthy dose of love.

Z: Zoom Opportunities

Z: Zoom Opportunities

Several informational webinars are available on the USBIA website. In addition, the Texas BIA will be creating content and sharing information both online and through in person conferences in the coming months.