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Brain Injury Awareness Month and the repercussions of concussions 

By Kshef Kamran, June 28 2024—

The end June signifies the end of Brain Injury Awareness month and now is the best time as any to address the severity and types of brain injuries that can be inflicted. 

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be a result of blunt force trauma to the head which can impact the underlying cortex. Globally, TBI is the leading cause of disability, and by 2031 it is expected that the most common neurological condition affecting Canadians will be TBI. In Canada, two percent of the population lives with a TBI and annually there are 18 000 TBI-related hospitalizations. The number of traumatic brain injuries is staggeringly high nationally and being educated on this ailment is crucial in helping the people suffering from this injury through the path of recovery. 

There are different types of brain injuries. Concussions are the most common type of brain injury and are used synonymously with a mild TBI. Blunt force trauma and closed head injuries are the leading cause of concussions.  When the brain moves around within the skull concussions occur which can be a result of motor vehicle accidents, falls or workplace accidents although one in four concussions occur due to injuries from physical or contact sports.

No two brain injuries are the same; each individual experiencing the injury does so in different ways. Therefore, symptoms that are frequently recorded can include: cognitive impairment, sensory assessing difficulties and seizures. For a mild TBI the symptoms that follow can be: headache, ringing in the ears or fatigue. Although, for moderate to severe TBI the symptoms can be similar to those of a mild TBI, but more aggressive and frequent. 

Treatment for PPCS is being developed and improved. Currently, it is limited to different forms of medication, therapy and attempts at treating the symptoms. It is crucial to understand that a brain injury is complex and can improve, however, it can also remain and continue to affect the individual. Thus, as families and friends of those who have suffered from a brain injury, we too have a significant part to play in the recovery of those suffering from injuries that may seem invisible to us and we can start by doing the following: 

Blame the symptom, not the person

As an outsider, understanding the complexities of a brain injury can be difficult because unlike breaking a bone generally you can not see a brain injury. When healing an injury the physician will often recommend avoiding straining that muscle, joint or bone and refrain from moving or using it as much as possible. However, there is no way for you to not use your brain which further complicates the recovery process. To assist in the recovery of someone who is suffering from a brain injury the primary element that you could do as a friend or family member is to understand that every component of the brain is responsible for a very specific and particular role. 

The most common component of the brain that is injured is the frontal lobe which is responsible for executive functions such as emotions, motor control and speech. Therefore, if a brain injury occurred in this area the result could be emotional irregularities including depression or anger. Thus, understanding that it is not the fault of the individual suffering from the brain injury that they are experiencing these symptoms and being patient with them can help in their recovery. 

Help organize, don’t over-help

Due to the cognitive impairment that can be a result of brain injuries, everyday tasks can be overwhelming and excessively difficult. Trips to the grocery store or chores around the house may seem physically or mentally taxing after a brain injury. A means of helping them can be to assist them in organizing their tasks by making lists, prioritizing tasks and making a schedule with allocated breaks depending on the task’s difficulty. It is important to take frequent breaks after having a brain injury as that provides the brain with time to rest after use similar to providing time for muscle recovery after exercising. 

However, there is a difference between helping and over-helping where instead of assisting with organization you complete all of their tasks. By overstepping out of love for the individual experiencing the injury it can have adverse effects to their recovery where they feel less motivated to achieve their goals knowing that someone else can complete it for them. You can start by helping the individual organize their tasks and steadily let them take more control as they become more comfortable. Assisting with the process of organizing their tasks can be beneficial not only to the recovery of the individual but also  to regain the individual suffering from a brain injury’s independence. 

Be there for treatment 

Following a brain injury there can be various appointments to attend to the family doctor, neurologist or physiatrist just to name a few. Therapy can be an exhausting experience at times, therefore, driving them when you can and listening to how they are feeling before and after treatment can provide the individual suffering from a brain injury with an outlet to voice their feelings. Having to go to various clinics and converse with different doctors can be mentally and physically taxing — by driving them they have one less thing to worry about and can conserve their strength for the treatment. Physicians provide a lot of information regarding treatment plans and post-treatment symptoms so being present for the treatment may allow you to remember details that may have been missed. Lastly, often at-home exercises or techniques are provided and requested to be completed thus being present at appointments can help you understand the post-treatment protocol or exercises to be completed. 

Learn the triggers 

For mild to severe TBI patients the common triggers can include but are not limited to bright lights, loud noises, crowded places and other elements that contribute to overstimulation. When someone you care about is suffering from a TBI, making a mental note of their triggers can help them slowly adjust to their everyday life while also recognizing their limits. For instance, if going to a social gathering together, be aware if the music is too loud or if flashing lights are too strong and if it becomes too much then help by providing a break or politely leaving the event if necessary. However, to recover and overcome the symptoms some exposure to triggers can be good, but the goal is not to push them into an overwhelming state or to put them in a situation they are not comfortable handling. 

Continued education

There is more information that is constantly being researched regarding traumatic brain injuries. Another asset that can benefit the recovery of impaired brain health is to continue to learn and educate yourself and others on the matter. It is important to spread information from sources to educate others and bring awareness to brain injuries and their associated symptoms. A primary example is Rowan’s Law which provides insight on improving concussion safety in sports for athletes. 

Annually 500 out of 100 000 individuals experience a TBI which equates to 165,000 Canadians a year or one person every three minutes. This makes it entirely possible to encounter an individual who is experiencing a TBI since the frequency is staggeringly high. As a result, understanding certain techniques and strategies to help a loved one recover from a TBI can be beneficial to their path of healing. Also, I believe, it is essential to bring awareness to brain health since similar to any organ it can be injured, though unlike a bone with a cast these injuries and the symptoms can be unknown to others around them.

Overall, it is important to educate yourself and others beyond Brain Injury Awareness Month by initiating clubs on campus or using online tools such as the Concussion Awareness Training Tool to help those that may be suffering in silence.

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