Following on from our previous blog, "A guide to concussion and mild Traumatic Brain Injury: About mild TBIs", in this guide we offer useful, easy to understand information about the Common Symptoms of a mild Traumatic Brain Injury.
‘Cognitive’ refers to the way we think and process information. A brain injury can affect how a person thinks, learns and remembers. Often, when somebody experiences a brain injury, they can get stressed or worried about the changes they’re experiencing. While this is completely understandable, it can make these problems worse.
Here are some of the most common cognitive symptoms you may be struggling with:
- Memory problems
- Poor concentration and reduced attention span
- Behaving inappropriately and oversharing
Poor short term memory is one of the most common issues associated with brain injuries. Struggling to remember things can be frustrating, both for you and your loved ones.
There are also a few things you can do to make life a little easier for you and your family as you recover. Using post-it notes, calendars and diaries can help remind you to do important things, such as lock the door, remember your wallet when you leave the house, or attend appointments.
It can also be useful to carry a notebook and pen with you to write down anything you need to remember. Tidying things away to a specific place is also a good tip for remembering where things are stored around the house.
Concentration and attention span
It’s also common for people to struggle with concentration and attention span after a brain injury. This makes it particularly difficult to focus in loud environments, or concentrate on two things at once. A brain injury may impact your concentration span, making it hard to stay alert at work or school, which often affects your performance.
If you’re struggling with concentration, try to do any important tasks when you know you are likely to be at your most alert.
It’s also a good idea to reduce background noise where possible, and complete anything you want to get done somewhere quiet. Try doing only one task at a time, and slowly build your concentration levels back up to avoid getting frustrated.
Behaving inappropriately and oversharing
Brain injury can also impact the way people behave. Common issues include a loss of inhibitions (called disinhibition), leading to inappropriate behaviour. After a mild TBI, you may make unacceptable remarks or laugh inappropriately, which can upset your loved ones.
Oversharing of personal information can also be common, and again can upset people around you or make them feel uncomfortable.
Most people will gradually regain control of their behaviour, but sometimes these disinhibitions will remain long term. You should try and consider the comments made by loved ones about your behaviour and think about how it may be perceived by other people.
As well as problems with thinking and processing information, you may also be struggling with a number of physical issues too. Because the brain is so central to how we function, any injuries to your head can cause problems with everyday tasks.
Like the symptoms above, physical problems are likely to get better over time - but it’s impossible to know how quickly you will recover. Try to stay patient. It is a good idea to ease yourself back into physical activities, and listen to your body!
- Sleep problems
- Dizziness and balance problems
After a brain injury, you may experience problems with sleeping. While it can be difficult, it’s important that you get enough rest after a brain injury to help your recovery. In the first few weeks, this might be much more than you’d usually need, and even after this initial period has passed, it’s still important to get lots of sleep.
Try sticking to a regular sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Even if you’re sleeping well at night, many people need naps to avoid exhaustion. If you do nap, set alarms so you’re not snoozing for too long - as this can have an impact on the quality of sleep you get at night.
Stress and worry can also affect sleep. If you’re struggling with this, then it’s a good idea to try relaxation techniques such as meditation.
Fatigue is not necessarily linked to sleep, as brain injuries can cause extreme tiredness even in people who are sleeping well at night. Feeling exhausted can have a big impact on your daily life, and make normal tasks difficult.
If you keep a diary about your experiences of fatigue, it might be easier to identify any common triggers. If you know what is causing tiredness, you can either avoid these activities if possible, or learn to manage them better in the future.
It’s also a good idea to prioritise important tasks when you have more energy. Break your daily routine down into manageable chunks and leave plenty of time to rest in between.
Although it can be frustrating, try not to push yourself too much and recognise when you need to rest. If you try and push through fatigue, it can cause more problems and make the recovery time longer. It’s important to ease yourself back into your daily tasks at a pace that suits you.
Headaches are a common symptom of mild brain injuries like concussions, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the injury. If your headache is still there after several days and isn’t relieved by painkillers, you should seek medical attention to check for more serious complications.
As you continue to recover, headaches can be a reaction to other symptoms - such as fatigue, stress and worry, or concentration and memory issues. As with fatigue, you should try to keep a diary of your headaches to identify what triggers them.
Although headaches can often be very uncomfortable, try not to become too reliant on painkillers - as long-term use of certain medications can be addictive, which actually makes headaches worse.
Dizziness and balance problems
Brain injuries can cause problems with balance and lead to feelings of dizziness. You may find that you’re unsteady on your feet and have problems with coordination, often bumping into things.
These symptoms will usually pass quite quickly, but make sure to take extra care early on, particularly when crossing the road. You should never drive if you have any balance problems or are experiencing dizziness.
You should also try to keep things tidy around your home and remove any obvious tripping hazards and obstacles until this passes. It may be necessary to introduce grab rails on stairs and in bathrooms, or use a perching stools to complete household tasks to avoid prolonged standing.
After suffering a mild brain injury, it’s normal for your emotions to be all over the place. Feelings of frustration, sadness, confusion and anxiety are all common and completely understandable. It’s often difficult to express your feelings after a brain injury, and for your family and friends to fully understand what you’re going through.
The important thing to remember is that your loved ones almost certainly mean well and are trying to help you get better - even if you find yourself clashing with them. If you want to talk to somebody, you can find information on charities who can help you at the end of this guide.
- Anger and irritability
- Low mood, depression and anxiety
Anger and irritability
Feelings of anger, losing your temper and irritability are common after a brain injury. You can often find yourself getting agitated and annoyed by things that previously wouldn’t have bothered you. This may be partly because of other symptoms you are experiencing, such as frustration at memory problems, or being annoyed with ongoing fatigue and headaches.
To reduce irritability, rest as much as you can, follow a routine that’s familiar to you, and try to recognise anything that triggers your anger. As we mentioned earlier, other things like meditation and relaxation techniques can also help you to control your emotions. If you feel yourself getting angry, try to take some time out to calm down.
Low mood, depression and anxiety
Sustaining a brain injury can be stressful and worrying. It’s difficult trying to come to terms with the various symptoms you may be experiencing, which can lead to low mood, as well as feelings of depression and anxiety.
The physical and cognitive symptoms we’ve looked at can take their toll, and it’s normal to feel emotional after a mild brain injury. You can speak to your GP about how you’re feeling, and they may be able to refer you to more specialist treatment from a neuropsychologist or healthcare professional who specialises in depression after a brain injury.
After a head injury, a lot of these emotions are a result of trauma to the brain, and may be completely irrational. If you do find that you’re a lot more emotional, you shouldn’t feel guilty about any outbursts! Understanding the reasons for your emotions will help you to explain them to your family, so they don’t take it personally.
If any other ongoing symptoms are still there after a long period of time, you may be diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS). Normally, symptoms of a mild brain injury should subside within two weeks. If you are still struggling after this time, you should seek advice from your GP.
Treatment of PCS is usually about managing any ongoing symptoms. Specific treatment and therapies will be recommended depending on what the individual is experiencing.
It can be difficult to come to terms with everything following a brain injury and it’s not always obvious what help you need. To make sure you don’t suffer any further damage from PCS, it’s important to seek help from people who truly understand the complexity of these types of injuries and the impact they can have.