A brain injury occurs when a person sustains damage that causes destruction or deterioration of the brain cells. Every brain injury is unique and the effects will differ from person-to-person. A brain injury can be caused by accidents at home or work, through medical issues or before birth.
There are lots of different symptoms associated with brain injuries, and in this blog we will look at what you can expect as your loved one begins their journey to recovery.
Different types of brain injury
While each injury is different, there are three different types of brain injury:
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): A Traumatic Brain Injury is an injury to the head that has been caused by an external force of some kind, such as a jolt to the head or a violent blow.
- Acquired Brain Injury (ABI): An Acquired Brain Injury could occur at any point after birth, and is classed as a non-hereditary, degenerative or congenital injury. This type of injury is usually associated with medical conditions such as strokes, drug overdose and brain tumours.
- Congenital Brain Injury: This type of injury occurs before a baby is born.
Brain injuries can vary a huge amount in terms of severity and often the effects of the injury aren’t immediately apparent to the person. Brain injuries are classified as either ‘mild’, ‘moderate’, or ‘severe’, although these classifications are not definitive. Often, so-called ‘mild’ brain injuries can have a significant long-term impact on a person, even if this is not picked up during initial scans.
Here is how the three categories are defined:
- Mild: A mild brain injury results in either a brief period of unconsciousness (under 30 minutes) or feeling sick and dizzy. Around 75-80% of all head injuries are classed as ‘mild’.
- Moderate: Moderate head injuries are defined by a person losing consciousness for a period of up to six hours.
- Severe: If the person is unconscious for over six hours, or is suffering from post-traumatic amnesia of 24 hours or more, they are classed as having a ‘severe’ head injury.
While not perfect, these three brain injury classifications offer a useful guideline for doctors, patients, and their families in the immediate aftermath of a brain injury. They also help indicate the potential problems that the person is likely to face after the initial injury. Although these early classifications offer a helpful guide, it’s important to remember that they can also be wrong. As your loved one begins their road to recovery, you’ll start to have a better understanding of the long-term impact of their injury.
What are the effects of a brain injury?
The main issues that people might face following a brain injury can generally be put into four categories:
- Physical: The way the body works
- Cognitive: Memory and the way we think and learn
- Emotional: The way we feel
- Behavioural: The way we act
Let’s look at each of these four categories one-by-one.
Physical effects of a brain injury
Many of the physical injuries sustained during a brain injury will heal long before the brain itself can recover. This means there are sometimes no external factors to indicate that a person is suffering from an ongoing brain injury.
However, brain injuries can cause problems with movement and balance, as well as coordination. A person with a brain injury can have ongoing problems with weakness in muscles, and sometimes paralysis. They can also experience a loss of sensation in certain areas of the body, as well as problems with their senses.
Extreme tiredness and fatigue are also common after a brain injury. People with brain injuries need to recognise when their energy levels are falling and get plenty of rest.
Around 25% of people who have sustained a severe head injury can also suffer from headaches. These can still occur up to 2 years after the initial accident and maybe even longer. They can be made worse by stress or worry.
There is also an increased risk of someone experiencing epilepsy following a brain injury. This is because scar tissue on the brain can make the area unstable and more likely to have uncontrollable activity. These are usually linked to injuries that have penetrated the brain, such as skull fractures.
Cognitive effects of a brain injury
Cognitive problems affect the way we think and remember things. After a brain injury, there are several cognitive functions that can be affected.
Problems with memory loss may occur, which impacts a person’s short and long-term memory. There are many areas of the brain which control memory and any damage to one of these areas can lead to these issues.
Lack of concentration and a poor attention span is also a common effect of a brain injury. People with brain injuries can become easily distracted and have trouble concentrating, especially when there are external factors, such as stress, tiredness or worry.
The speed of processing information after a brain injury can decrease. This may result in the injured person being unable to process fast speech or have problems taking instructions the first time around. They may also have difficulty responding to questions.
Finally, while eyesight and hearing may appear to be unaffected by a brain injury, the area of the brain which processes incoming signals from these organs may be damaged. This can result in difficulties judging distances and spatial awareness. Visual problems can also include only being able to process parts of what can be seen, so half of the image will be missed by the brain.
Emotional and behavioural effects of a brain injury
After a brain injury, people will often notice a change in their loved one’s behaviour and their emotional responses to events.
These changes are often more subtle than many of the physical and cognitive problems listed above, but can have the biggest effect on the lives of the injured person and their family. A change in personality can be very difficult to come to terms with for all those involved.
Some emotional and behavioural effects can include:
- Feelings of agitation and confusion
- Fits of anger and feelings of irritation
- Loss of self-awareness and insight into different situations
- Impulsiveness and a lack of inhibitions
- Loss of control of emotions and how to express feelings
- Lack of motivation and interest
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Inflexibility and obsessive behaviours
- Sexual problems
Brain injuries can have a big impact on a person’s life, and while every case is different, it is possible for a person to make a full recovery.
When a loved one suffers a brain injury, there is a lot to process. At CFG Law, we understand how difficult this can be, which is why we can offer help and advice to help you through this difficult time. Our free guide ‘Find out what to do when a loved one has suffered a brain injury’ provides you with vital information on what to expect in those first few months, and how to adjust so your loved one can live a happy and fulfilling life.