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Traumatic Brain Injuries

A traumatic brain injury occurs when an external force causes temporary or long term damage to the brain’s function. When an accident occurs there are several symptoms that may indicate an individual has experienced a traumatic brain injury:

  • Slurred speech
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unusual behavior or confusion
  • Vomiting or Nausea
  • Headache
  • Lack of coordination
  • Dilated pupils
  • Seizures
  • Lack of sensation in fingers and toes


Treatment for a traumatic brain injury begins the moment an injured person arrives in the emergency room. Below are tests medical professionals can perform to help understand the effects of the injury:

CT Scan: This is large imaging device that produces cross-sectioned images of the brain to show damage like fractures, hemorrhages, hematomas, contusions and swelling.

MRIs: This is an imaging device that utilizes radio and magnetic waves to create images of the brain. 

PET Scan: This is a nuclear imaging device often used in addition to a CT scan or MRI that asses functions like blood flow, oxygen use, and glucose metabolism.


Traumatic brain injuries are classified as mild, moderate and severe through a measurement system called the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). According to GCS, the level of injury is determined by the initial damage caused to the brain by evaluating eye, verbal and motor responses.

GCS Score 13-15: This indicates the individual has experienced a mild traumatic brain injury. Although considered the least severe during the initial stages, a mild brain injury can have serious repercussions and requires professional medical attention.

GCS Score 8-12: This indicates an individual has sustained a moderate traumatic brain injury. When this occurs, an individual can lose consciousness, remain confused for an extended period of time, or become physically or mentally impaired.

GCS Score below 8: This indicates an individual has sustained a severe brain injury. As the name indicates, this type of brain injury is the most detrimental and will require extensive, long-term rehabilitative treatment.

Intracranial Pressure Monitor: This is a probe that helps evaluate and reduce swelling..

EEG:  This checks the brain for abnormal electrical activity and can determine the chances and extent of recovery.

Secondary Conditions

The brain controls countless functions that we perform on a daily basis. Therefore, a traumatic brain injury can have a devastating impact on other parts of the human body. However medical professionals are aware and vigilant of complications that may arise and will take the appropriate steps to prevent or treat further repercussions of a traumatic brain injury.

Seizures: Seizures can occur up to a year following a traumatic brain injury. This condition is typically treated with anticonvulsant medications.

Hydrocephalus: This type of injury occurs when excess fluid accumulates in the brain and compresses brain tissue, leading to further brain damage. To treat hydrocephalus, medical professionals will use a. intracranial pressure catheter to help drain the fluid and monitor the brain’s condition.

Cerebrospinal fluid leaks: This condition occurs when there is a leak in the dura, the membrane which surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It can cause decreased pressure around the brain and spinal cord and can also invite infection causing bacteria and air to enter the cavity.

Infection: A skull fracture, penetrating injuries or cerebrospinal fluid leaks can cause dangerous, potentially fatal infections like meningitis. Typically, infections can be treated with antibiotics. However, in more severe cases, a doctor may need to perform surgery to remove the infected area.

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): DVT occurs when there is a blockage in one or more arteries. For traumatic brain injury survivors, damage to arteries can lead a blood clot in the brain or head. To prevent DVT, a patient can wear compression boots or stocking.

Pneumonia: A traumatic brain injury patient who is on a ventilator is particularly at risk of pneumonia because the lungs can become infected with bacteria. To treat this condition, secretions must be removed through a suction treatment.

Drop foot: Drop foot typically occurs among patients who are in a coma. This condition causes tendons to shorten and toes to point downward in a severe manner. Drop foot is preventable through the use of splints.

Long term Secondary Conditions

Cognitive Problems: A traumatic brain injury can lead to a variety of cognitive problems including: memory loss, impaired problem solving, trouble processing, multi-tasking, lack of concentration and impaired judgment.

Impaired Mobility: A brain injury can lead to the loss of fine motor skills or even paralysis. Some survivors may require assistive devices or a wheelchair.

Dimentia: Chronic Traumatic Ecncephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative disease that affects some athlete who sustain repeated blows to the head. CTE can lead to dementia which effects memory, thinking and reasoning.

Behavioral changes: Traumatic brain injury can lead to behavioral changes including lack of self-contorl, awareness and difficulty in social settings.

Sensory problems : A brain injury causes sensory dysfunction including impaired vision, bitter taste, and a tingling sensation of the skin.


Specific methods of brain injury rehabilitation are geared specifically to each client’s needs during treatment. However, generally speaking, rehabilitation programs typically focus on restoring functions and showing patients how to adapt to functions that can’t be restored. Through different forms of therapies, a brain injury patient can work towards reaching the maximum recovery potential.

Physical therapy: This form of therapy focuses on strength, endurance, coordination and mobility through exercises programs.

Recreational therapy: This form of therapy develops patient’s physical abilities so that they can engage and participate in recreational and athletic activities.

Respiratory therapy: This form of therapy is intended for traumatic brain injury survivors who are on ventilators.  Therapists will teach ventilator care, breathing exercises, promote lung function and prevent further complications from occurring.

Speech Therapy: This form of therapy helps with speech pathology along with cognitive and reading and writing skills.

Life with a TBI

Rehabilitation for traumatic brain injury survivors is a continual, life-long process. Since a TBI can affect one’s memory and the ability to process new information or skills, life after the injury requires ongoing adjustments.  Learning to handle ‘real life’ situations is important to help traumatic brain injury survivors reintegrate into society.

Maintaining a daily schedule can be extremely helpful during the adjustment period. Often times, traumatic brain injury survivors perform daily living activities at a slower pace. The repetition of a daily schedule can help speed up activities like getting ready for the day or preparing meals. Furthermore, repetition can also help with memory.

Traumatic brain injury survivors should also participate in activities that stimulate the brain. Just like muscles in the body, the brain should be ‘in shape.’ Brain injury survivors are encouraged to play games that require thinking and strategy skills.  This will help repair and develop the parts of the brain that were damaged in the accident.

Living with a traumatic brain injury requires effort not only from the injured individual but from family and friends as well. The brain is a complex organ with many facets and functions. Therefore, each survivor will require individualized treatment. However, with the appropriate care, many traumatic brain injury survivors can gain a sense of independence.

Take a look at our compilation of TBI resources that offer guidance and support throughout recovery.

January 24, 2013