Traumatic brain injuries are often referred to as the “silent epidemic” because, unlike a broken leg or laceration, this injury is harder to detect. The three leading causes of traumatic brain injury in the United States are falls, being struck by an object, and motor vehicle accidents. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 2.8 million people are treated for a traumatic brain injury each year.
What is a traumatic brain injury?
A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, occurs after a person receives a bump, jolt, or blow to the head. It can also be caused by oxygen deprivation, this is known as hypoxia. While some head injuries are visible like a bruise, swelling, or cut, most TBIs are not visible to the naked eye and are known as “closed head injuries”. TBIs are broken up into three categories.
- Mild – Occurs if a person experiences a brief loss of consciousness or change in mental status. Concussions are in this category.
- Moderate – Unconsciousness may last several minutes or more. The injured person may have periods of prolonged confusion and show symptoms of physical, behavioral, or cognitive differences after being hurt.
- Severe – People with severe TBIs often experience coma, persistent vegetative state, or give minimal responses after an injury. Victims often have permanent problems with physical movement, how the brain processes information, and processing emotions.
Not all head injuries result in TBI but it’s always important to be vigilant after an injury occurs in case one is present. Mild concussions are the most common type of traumatic brain injury and often go undiagnosed. The CDC estimates about 75 percent of TBIs in the U.S. are mild. However, like severe TBIs, they too can be serious and result in long-term effects; they should never be underestimated.
How long does it take to recover from a TBI?
It’s important to understand, regardless of severity, TBIs can be a life-altering event. Recovery may come soon after an accident, or the brain may never completely recover. Each person will have a different experience because the degrees of healing after a TBI vary from person to person since no two brain injuries are alike. However, after sustaining a TBI of any level of severity, a person may never be the same they were pre-injury.
- Physical – A person may have any number of physical disabilities, including but not limited to vision, hearing, walking, and other bodily functions.
- Behavioral/Emotional – After sustaining a TBI, a person can experience depression, anxiety, temperament changes, impulsive choices/actions, emotional outbursts, social inappropriateness, lack of inhibition, or any combination of these.
- Cognitive – The injured may suffer memory loss, have difficulty with decision-making, reasoning, and problem-solving. Things that came easily to them before no longer do. They also often have problems with executive functioning.
Broken bones and cuts can be serious but usually do heal in time. Unfortunately, brain cells do not replicate themselves the same way as these other types of injuries. It’s not uncommon for people to notice their loved one seems like a different person after sustaining a TBI. And, in many ways, they might be a different person with actual personality changes since the brain doesn’t function the same as it did before. This is a frustrating experience that can be very hard to accept for both the person injured and their family and friends.
While people can experience a full or good recovery after a brain injury, but for many who are hurt in this way, life is forever changed.
What can I do after a TBI has occurred?
After a TBI occurs, it’s hard to place a time table on recovery. One thing about a head injury is that it’s rarely predictable and recovery is usually an ongoing process. The challenges people with brain injuries face is that sometimes symptoms are not immediately apparent, it may be a while before symptoms emerge. Or symptoms may change over time, especially when children are injured because their brains are still growing. This is why, after receiving a bump, jolt, or blow to the head it’s important for an injured person to be examined by a health care professional immediately because early treatment is essential with head injuries. If the injury was caused by an accident or due to someone’s negligent behavior, by receiving medical treatment, you’ll also have documentation.
Life after suffering from a TBI can be very difficult. About 5.3 million Americans live each day with a TBI-related disability. If you or a loved one are injured at work, in a car accident, or by medical malpractice, it’s a good idea to consult with a traumatic brain injury attorney. By doing so, you’ll understand your rights and best protect yourself in the event long-term or ongoing treatment and rehabilitation are needed.