Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is much more common than most of us realize. This general ignorance has given rise to some myths that get passed around whenever the subject does come up.
A child playing at school is injured and later suffers TBI. When this occurrence is mentioned among other students or their parents who hear something about the accident, a return to some of those myths rises again. TBI can happen any place and to anyone. It is often the result of a traffic accident, or on a playing field, even while wearing protective headgear. In years past, no one dreamed of wearing any sort of helmet while riding a bicycle and most people had the impression that motorcycle helmets were more of a fashion statement than head protection.
Sometimes physicians and others refer to TBI as a concussion. This is in actuality much more common and pervasive than most ever realize. It is estimated by the Center for Deployment Psychology that between 10% and 20% of service members who have served in places such as Iraq suffer from head trauma. While this is a serious subject and not always clearly understood, a good number of myths about brain injury have become so common as to be generally accepted as true. Here are a few:
1. Many believe that unless a person loses consciousness he or she won’t suffer from any lingering TBI.
Over the years, this too has been under debate, but today, the medical community as well as the mental health profession tends more and more to agree that a severe concussion can and does occur without the patient losing consciousness.
2. Many believe that today’s modern body and head armor protects our military from what might previously have been more severe or even fatal injuries.
There is truth in this, but while body armor does offer more protection than our military has had in the past, it can only do so much. A Kevlar helmet may be helpful in preventing objects from actually cutting into the brain, but it cannot always protect the victim from closed-wound head trauma. And to date, no helmet can stop a direct hit by a projectile from a weapon such as a rifle. Even when a helmet deflects shrapnel or a bullet, the actual damage inflicted by the sharp blow to the head can cause TBI.
3. Many believe that if there is no bleeding, there will be no TBI.
While brain injuries may be open wounds, known as penetrating wounds, or blunt, i.e. closed wounds in which the skin is not broken, either can and often does cause TBI. Often, not seeing any sign of bleeding, it is assumed that a little rest will cure the victim’s trauma and the injury will be quickly forgotten.
The truth, however, is that although there may be no external signs of bleeding, there can be internal damage with bleeding that can cause pervasive and long-lasting neurological as well as psychological conditions in a patient, such as having trouble going to sleep or staying asleep especially if there are heavy medications involve. This issue can be lessened by using alternative methods such as using any white noise machine available instead of getting another set of medicines for sedation. Unfortunately, some other symptoms of TBI are frequently so subtle and pervasive that no one even recognizes them as TBI. For years, the victim may feel that something isn’t quite right, but with time, one adjusts to this new, if unpleasant condition.
4. Another common belief is that mild TBIs are not going to slow a person down.
Even mild TBIs can and do have a subtle and long-lasting consequence in the area of neurological and psychological functions. That means that even a mild case of TBI can affect a person’s thought patterns and emotional levels as well. The severity of these may be quite mild or rise to a point where the person can no longer be a useful and pleasant member of society.
Even mild TBI can cause physical symptoms as well causing a variety of problems ranging from simple headaches to confusion, slowed thought processes, extreme mood swings, and many others by which most of them can’t be detected by Vicks thermometer or Littmann stethoscopes. Just because brain scans show nothing, does not indicate that a patient is fully recovered and a good many other debilitating and life disturbing afflictions may go on undiagnosed for years to come.
When a household finds itself with a family member who has suffered from TBI, the difficulties in their relationships can be strained and may present a set of problems for which the family was not prepared. Lack of understanding about TBI can cause family members to think the victim is simply being confrontational or argumentative, or in a bad mood. In any case, they see the victim more and more as a disruptive member of the household and patience wears thin. The list below will help you know what you should do:
- It is important for family members to assure themselves that the patient is getting proper care.
- Family members can and should make every effort to demonstrate their concern and sympathy.
- It may be necessary to help the victim seek out help.
- It is important that the victim know and remember that the family cares and loves him or her.
- The victim of TBI should be included as much as possible in any family concerns or planning.
- Family members should always treat a person with TBI with respect and compassion.
- Sometimes, as a concerned family member, it may help to possibly be the first down to sit down so the victim can open up and will be able to tell about their mental issues.
- An offer of help, or even simply to listen may be encouraging.
- Lastly, it is important however, not to push a victim of TBI too quickly, but to encourage the person slowly to warm up to the idea of listening to what family members have to say.
These are only a few thoughts and ideas about TBI, what it does to its victims and its effect on family members. Whenever possible, the family should seek assistance, particularly if it is suspected that the victim may be having thoughts of harming himself. There are many avenues for help and it is important to learn about these as quickly as possible.