It’s common for brain injury survivors to suffer from sensory overload as their brain struggles to prioritise all the information coming in and filter out what it doesn’t need to focus on. Have you ever had someone say they saw you in town and that they waved at you, but you didn’t respond? That’s because even though they were in your field of vision, your brain was focusing on other things. Your eyes sent the images of that person to your brain, and quite frankly, it ignored them and so you never “saw” them.
It’s this filtering process that can become damaged and cause problems for those with a brain injury. We learn how to prioritise and filter the information our senses are reporting to us when we are children. Babies get overwhelmed and tired when there is too much going on around them, and in affect, this what a brain injury can take you back to as years of development of this sensory filter are lost.
This lack of filter can seriously impact on an individual's life.
We all have had times when being in a very noisy crowd has made us just want to get out of there. Unfortunately, even during quiet times, destinations such as the supermarket can have this effect on a brain-injured person. The florescent lights, endless signage competing for our attention, music and tannoy announcements all put too many demands on the brain. Thus, this leads to survivors going out less and even dreading doing normal activities such as shopping. This is just one of the reasons a visit to the supermarket can feel like a punishment. For more possible issues when shopping read 7 Executive dysfunction challenges after brain injury that I wrote when I felt like I had to avoid shopping like the plague.
The good news is that you can retrain your brain to improve this process.
Your brain is always creating new pathways as you learn new skills. This process is called neuroplasticity and can continue throughout our lives. Babies are the champions at this and then it slows as we age. You need to slowly reintroduce more noise, sound, smells, etc., to your brain so it can rebuild its tolerance. This could take months or years, and you may never return to your pre-injury state, but hopefully it will be tolerable.
To enable your brain to cope, you can help it filter out some of the unnecessary information by using some clever devices:
Filter out blue light.
As blue light has the longest wavelength, it is the one that causes the most strain on our eyes and can cause migraines for some people. Computer and mobile phone screens, unfortunately, omit a lot of this, but now you can change this in the settings to get a rosier tone. But fluorescent lights also throw out a lot of blue light. Some people wear sunglasses to reduce this, and it does work pretty well.
However, there is an alternative that means you don’t have to feel like you’re always walking around in the dark. There are glasses which are tinted with a rosy tone so you can filter out the blue light everywhere you go. A very good example of this is Theraspecs. They work better than regular sunglasses because they still allow other light in, helping you in the long term as you try to retrain your brain to rebuild its own filter.
Filter out excess noise.
Lots of brain injury survivors get some comfort out of wearing earplugs to reduce the amount of noise they have to cope with. But that can leave everything sounding a little muffled and make it difficult to follow what someone is saying to you.
Instead of continually having to take out your earplugs when there’s something you need to tune into, there is a product by Vibes. They were designed for concertgoers who wanted to hear the music as the artist intended it but found it too loud. Vibes reduces the amount of noise but maintains the clarity of your environment. Thus, you can still enjoy a conversation whilst having less background noise. For more details on how they reduce sensory overload see their page “For autism & sensory disorders”.
As always, I only recommend products that I genuinely believe will benefit people. I’m sure there are alternatives out there, but I don’t know how they measure up in comparison. But at least you know that there are tools available to act as your filter and let you start to move forward again.
Nothing in this blog should be taken as providing medical advice or recommendations. Please always consult your doctor for medical advice and before taking any medication or supplement. Any opinions expressed in this article are of the author and not CFG Law Limited.