Invisible Injury, Real Struggles – Coping with Traumatic Brain Injury
Millions of Americans live with a traumatic brain injury. In addition to the mental and emotional challenges of their condition, they also face erroneous assumptions and expectations from others. The Brain Injury Association of Rhode Island is helping to raise public awareness of this condition in our community so that survivors of TBI can be treated with dignity and understanding.
A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is a serious condition that affects millions of Americans every year. According to data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013 alone, 2.8 million people in the U.S. sustained some form of brain trauma. Almost 50,000 people died as a result, making it the leading cause of death in the 1-44 age group. In addition, the CDC estimates that 5.3 million Americans are currently living with a disability related to a traumatic brain injury.
Despite how common the problem is, however, erroneous ideas about living with a traumatic brain injury and its consequences seem to abound. For example, the majority of people diagnosed with TBI are not bed-bound; neither do they require constant medical attention or assistance. They are often able to walk, speak, drive, and shop entirely unassisted, and because a TBI does not always leave visible scars, other people might never realize that an individual is even struggling with this condition.
As personal injury attorneys, we have worked closely with many TBI survivors. While the resilience with which most survivors face their predicament is admirable, comments from TBI survivors themselves and from their family members indicate that there is a great need for increased awareness of this condition, and for support and advocacy for those who live with TBI.
Not “Just a Concussion”
Traumatic brain injury happens when a traumatic blow or force to the head results in changes in brain function. While such injuries certainly do occur as the result of catastrophic car accidents, assault, and military action, falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries. Other causes include sports injuries, work injuries, and domestic violence.
The Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA) categorizes traumatic brain injuries according to their severity into 3 categories: mild, moderate, and severe. The classification is based on several factors such as the amount of time a person was unconscious, signs of brain trauma, and neuroimaging test results. Of course, a severe injury can greatly limit a person’s cognitive abilities and may result in a comatose state or a variety of other abnormal states of consciousness that may eventually lead to death. Nevertheless, even injuries classified as mild or moderate can completely change a person’s life. According to one brain injury support organization, cognitive consequences of sustaining a non-life-threatening TBI may include: trouble paying attention and concentrating; feeling confused; slowed thinking speed; difficulty understanding others, as well as learning and memory problems. Personality changes may occur as well. For example, someone who was previously calm and even-tempered, after sustaining a brain injury may acquire an unpredictable character, becoming prone to anger or mood swings.
Daily Challenges of TBI Survivors
It is important to remember that no two brain injuries are the same, so brain injury survivors may experience different symptoms and have different daily struggles. Nevertheless, no matter the severity, a TBI will usually have some debilitating effect on a person’s life. TheMighty.com, an advocacy group for those suffering from disabilities and chronic or terminal illness, published an article that rounded up the comments and feelings of TBI survivors. What they have to say shines some light on the day-to-day challenges experienced by a person living with TBI. For example, several individuals mention that they now need much more time to complete seemingly simple tasks, that they have a hard time managing their emotions, and that they need much more rest than they did before their accident. Just because a TBI survivor looks okay, doesn’t mean that their symptoms are imaginary or that they exaggerate their struggle.
Assumptions and Expectations
Coping with the expectations and assumptions of others can be one of the most challenging aspects of living with traumatic brain injury. One commenter in the previously mentioned article from the TheMighty.com explains her situation this way;
“The ‘new’ version of myself has very different needs than the old me. I need more rest. I need more time to form thoughts into words. I need more time to complete seemingly simple tasks. And I need my loved ones to realize and be patient with the fact that my emotions are so much harder to manage than they used to be. I still love my partner and my kids, maybe even more than ever, but I also need more solitude than I’ve ever needed before. I need compassion and cooperation. I need love and comfort. I miss the old me so so much… Raising awareness about this issue will be the first thing on my plate, once I can manage to claw my way back to some normalcy… For now, I need my sense of humor more than ever. Because it’s laugh and learn or cry and die, baby. And crying hurts the head.” —KendraPartida
If your family member, friend, coworker, or neighbor is a TBI survivor, you can do much to help them face the challenges of their condition. As BIAA poignantly notes, “a person with brain injury is a person first”. Simplistic generalizations or unfair assumptions about the person’s state or severity of their injury should be strictly avoided. Instead, educating oneself on the basics of TBI and patiently listening to the survivor may help you to understand them and to be better prepared to offer assistance when they need it.
Keep Your Head Up
Public awareness campaigns and charity events are another great way to show support for TBI survivors and are an opportunity to learn more about the condition itself. The legal team at Marasco & Nesslebush is showing its support for the silent sufferers of TBI by participating in this year’s annual 5K run organized by the Brain Injury Association of Rhode Island – the only nonprofit in Rhode Island solely dedicated to brain injury. The theme this year is “Keep Your Head Up”. In addition to the run itself, there will also be a 2-mile walk, and a fun run for kids. The event will take place on Saturday, May 5th, at Goddard Memorial State Park, in Warwick, RI. We invite you to join us in showing solidarity with TBI survivors and in supporting the Brain Injury Association of Rhode Island by registering here. We hope to see representation from communities all across Rhode Island.