As the name suggests, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a catastrophic injury. Even a so-called mild TBI can cause weeks, months, and even years of health issues. Many times, moderate to severe TBIs lead to permanent injuries. If the patient is elderly or already health-compromised, it can result in their death.
A TBI is defined as damage to the brain because of a sudden blow, jolt, or bump to the head. It can be a closed brain injury or penetrating injury, which breaks through the skull. Strokes and aneurysms are also considered brain injuries, but they are defined as non-traumatic.
If you or your loved one suffered a TBI due to someone else’s actions, seek the services of an experienced brain injury lawyer. Taking action can give you and your family financial peace of mind during a very difficult time. Below you’ll find more information on the types of TBIs, their short and long-term effects, and current medical treatments.
Mild, Moderate or Severe Traumatic Brain Injury: Understanding the Differences
Most TBIs are caused by falls, car accidents, acts of violence, and sports injuries. In 2018 alone, TBIs accounted for over 223,000 U.S. hospital visits.
The severity and location of a patient’s brain injury determine the after-effects of a TBI. Doctors categorize TBIs as mild, moderate, or severe.
Mild TBIs are sometimes called concussions. The two most common causes of mild TBIs are a blow or bump to the head or trauma to the body that causes a person’s head to snap back and forth quickly, also known as whiplash.
These types of TBIs are classified as mild because they aren’t considered life-threatening. Make no mistake, however, a TBI, even a mild one is a serious injury. Anyone who suffers whiplash or a head injury should seek immediate medical attention, whether they feel any pain or not. Even whiplash can cause long-term injuries.
Moderate TBIs are the result of a blow to the head or an injury that penetrates the skull. The three leading causes of moderate TBIs are car accidents, falls, and acts of violence. Patients can have long-term or permanent injuries from a moderate TBI.
Patients with moderate TBIs can suffer:
- A loss of consciousness
- Skull fracture(s)
- Minimal or no bleeding
Most patients with moderate TBIs need to be carefully monitored but don’t usually require surgery.
Severe TBIs indicate that a patient has suffered a prolonged loss of consciousness or has even fallen into a coma. Objects may have penetrated the skull and there is significant bleeding. If there is bleeding the patient will need emergency surgery to relieve any pressure on the brain.
Seniors are particularly vulnerable to slip and fall accidents, which can easily cause a severe TBI. Because of their advanced age, any traumatic brain injury is considered life-threatening to those 65 years of age or older. Additionally, studies show that seniors with TBIs are more susceptible to developing Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, even years after their accident.
What are Some of the Short-term After Effects of a TBI?
The short-term after-effects of a TBI will depend on the severity of the patient’s injury, their age, plus their overall health at the time of the accident.
Most patients with a mild TBI display no symptoms after a few weeks. A smaller percentage experience symptoms that last weeks, months, or even years.
Some short-term after-effects of a mild TBI:
- Lingering headaches
- Ringing ears
- Neck pain
While a mild TBI doesn’t require surgery, it can still take a mental toll on the patient. Some of the short-term emotional after-effects include:
- Feeling disoriented
You might be surprised to learn that lingering headaches are more common in patients with a mild TBI compared to those with moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries. This can include migraines and cervical headaches. The latter is common in those with a whiplash injury due to trauma to the neck.
The after-effects of a moderate to severe TBI can be long-term or permanent. In some cases, a person’s condition can improve with proper medical care and rehabilitation. For others, focusing on improving quality of life in the face of permanent injuries is the goal.
In the short term, these TBI patients can experience:
- Slurred Speech
- Delayed response to stimuli or during conversations
- Amnesia, causing no recollection of the accident itself
Those with severe traumatic brain injuries often fall into a coma, leaving them unresponsive and unable to wake up. They can remain in this state for several weeks or months. Much will depend on the seriousness and location of the trauma to their brain. For most patients, the sooner they emerge from their coma, the better their odds of recovery
What Are Some Long-term After Effects of a TBI?
Patients with mild TBIs can develop emotional issues from the long-term physical after effects of their injury. Those who suffer from dizziness, for example, can’t drive or return to work until their symptoms subside. This inability to resume everyday life can cause depression and anxiety.
Other long-term after-effects of mild TBIs:
- Migraines, cervical and tension headaches
- Dizziness, including inner ear problems
- Lingering neck pain, often from a pinched nerve
No two TBIs are the same. Depending on the area of the brain injured, even those with mild TBIs can display behavioral changes or lose some cognitive function stemming from their injury. This can lead to:
- Mood swings
- Anger, which can lead to frustration
- Loss of short-term memory
- Trouble concentrating, which makes learning more difficult
- Not wanting to participate in activities previously enjoyed
The long-term after-effects of a moderate to severe TBI can be permanent. But with treatment and rehabilitation, these can often be reduced.
- Seizures and epilepsy
- Difficulty swallowing
- Blurred or double vision
- Lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
- A noticeable change in personality
- Difficulty awakening from sleep
- Involuntary muscle contractions
Family members of patients with moderate to severe TBIs should by no means expect their loved ones to develop every one of these issues. Also, over time, their condition can improve with the right treatment.
Can You Make a Full Recovery From a Traumatic Brain Injury?
A lot depends on the location and extent of the TBI. As noted in a previous section, most individuals with mild TBIs make full recoveries. The more serious the TBI, the less likely the patient will make a full recovery. This is especially true if they were in a coma for an extended period.
The three major factors that can inhibit a person’s recovery are:
- If the patient had to have any part of their brain removed.
- If swelling in the brain caused a lack of oxygen. This causes brain cells to die, also known as permanent brain damage.
- The location of the injury to the brain.
Yet over time, many patients with moderate to severe TBIs can see a noticeable improvement in their condition.
Can the Symptoms of a TBI Get Worse Over Time?
If a TBI patient delays or avoids treatment and therapy for their injury, their condition can certainly worsen over time. It can even decrease their life expectancy. Not seeking immediate medical attention after suffering a traumatic brain injury also poses major risks. Not only can it be potentially life-threatening, but a lack of early medical intervention can worsen symptoms.
Never dismiss a blow to the head or neck as something that will heal itself. If you have a TBI, you’re putting your health and life in danger by doing so.
Medical Advances in the Treatment of Traumatic Brain Injuries
As medical science learns more about the brain and how it functions, they can apply these findings to the treatment of TBIs. Today, we know the brain can adapt and make changes in how it performs even after suffering major trauma. This is known as neuroplasticity. Armed with this knowledge, medical specialists have developed effective therapies to help TBI patients improve their condition.
The key to encouraging neuroplasticity in the brain is consistency and lots of repetition. Remarkably, this stimulates the brain to rewire itself.
Where once doctors thought TBI patients only had about a three-month recovery window following their injury, therapies that emphasize the principles of neuroplasticity offer the hope that a patient can continue to improve for months and years into the future.
What Treatments Can Help Lessen the Symptoms of a TBI?
Neuroplasticity is at the core of most TBI treatments. These are some of the options patients have.
Physical Therapy – TBI patients with any paralysis will benefit greatly from physical therapy. Depending on the degree of paralysis or muscle weakness, a physical therapist can assist a patient with certain exercises that stimulate the brain. This encourages neuroplasticity. Over time, the patient should be able to perform the exercises on their own with monitoring from the therapist. Over time, physical therapy can help some TBI patients improve muscle strength and walk again.
Occupational Therapy – The goal of occupational therapy is to help those with TBI regain a sense of independence. This is done by having them practice routine tasks such as grooming and eating. They can even help those who need adaptive technology to function improve their quality of life. Being able to complete these tasks can also help improve the mental well-being of someone with a TBI.
Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT) – This therapy improves function in the parts of a person’s body that have suffered the most damage. Many times, TBI patients will favor a stronger leg or arm. The problem is that the weaker arm or leg will atrophy, rendering it useless. The use of the weaker limb through intense, precise exercises can help trigger neuroplasticity. That will improve strength and motion in the affected area.
Speech Therapy – Being able to communicate effectively again is one of the most important milestones for those who have suffered some sort of cognitive decline due to their TBI. Depending on the individual’s injury and communication problem, different forms of speech therapy can be effective in improving their condition, which can include:
- Slurred speech
- Aphasia is damage to a specific part of the brain which has impaired a person’s ability to speak or understand clearly.
- A loss of social skills. The person may have trouble reading facial expressions or reacting correctly to someone else’s verbal communication. For example, not responding when asked a question.
- Impaired cognitive skills. Some TBI patients have trouble processing new information.
- Loss of memory, which can cause someone with a TBI to lose track of a conversation.
Sensory Retraining – TBIs can cause people to lose the ability to process sensations. Through sensory retraining, a person’s brain can relearn these sensations by exposing them to different temperatures and textures, for example. Through certain exercises, they can also learn to grip and put down an object correctly and safely again.
What is the Potential Cost of a TBI Over a Lifetime?
Patients with moderate to severe TBIs and their families will face physical, emotional, and economic challenges. One of the greatest is the cost of medical care. It’s estimated that a TBI patient’s care and treatment can be anywhere between $85,000 to $3 million during their lifetime.
Having access to all of the medical attention a TBI patient needs to recover or enjoy a better quality of life can be expensive. Most patients and their families would be overwhelmed by the steep medical bills involved. But here in California, TBI patients who suffer injuries due to the recklessness or negligence of another party have the right to sue those responsible in a civil court.
The Dominguez Firm is a personal injury law firm that has achieved record-setting settlements and verdicts for TBI clients throughout Southern California. For a free consultation, please call 800-818-1818.