5 Important Brain Injury Recovery Steps

HOPE TBI Podcast
Brain Injury Recovery Steps

Although the vast majority of people recover after a concussion (guess what? a concussion IS a brain injury)…….how quickly they improve, rehabilitate, and return to their daily activities depends on many factors. These factors include how severe their concussion was, their age, how healthy they were before the concussion, how they take care of themselves after the injury, and the resources provided to them regarding their aftercare/recovery process (this means being provided with proper directions, follow up, and educational information by good providers who know what they are doing).

Okay, we say “good providers”. I do want to say that brain science is changing and evolving on a daily basis. It may not be possible for your provider to know all the latest and greatest developments regarding brain injury recovery, so don’t be too hard on them. It is also difficult for the rehabilitation team of providers to know exactly how long a recovery will take, especially at the beginning. This is why it is called “practicing medicine” – not everything is certain or known. The more you know, the more you realize that once you’ve seen one brain injury you’ve seen one brain injury. This means that all brain injuries, and healing abilities from those brain injuries are different (even if they share similar symptomology). A “good provider” would be someone who advocates for their patient, or defers their patient to a provider with specialized training, or who acts as an active listener and guide through the recovery process (even if that means being willing to learn about new scientific breakthroughs and keeping up on their skills, and knowledge base around what they are treating you for). Is that clear as mud? LOL

Do not compare your concussion (brain injury) symptoms and recovery to that of someone else or even to any previous concussions you may have sustained. Each persons injury is different, and the symptoms of each brain injury(even when happening to the same person) may be different and require a different rehabilitation time as well.

It has been established time and time again that recovery is usually fastest in the early weeks and months after brain injury. In the first few weeks after a brain injury, swelling, bleeding or changes in brain chemistry and physiological aspects of the brain are often affected, and affect the function of healthy brain tissue. The fastest improvement usually happens in about the first six months after injury. During this time, the injured person will likely show a vast array of improvement and may even seem steadily be getting better. The person continues to improve between six months and two years after injury, but this varies greatly for different people and may not happen as fast as the first six months. It is important to note though that while improvements slow down substantially after two years….additional healing and progress may still occur many years after injury. Also the opposite is true as well. A person who appears to be recovered or rehabilitated may not experience affects or manifestation of their injury until years later.

There are some poignant things to keep in mind regarding recovery from a brain injury.

  • If you suffered from anxiety or depression before your head injury, it may make it harder to adjust to the symptoms of a concussion (brain injury)
  • If you already had a medical condition at the time of your concussion (such as chronic headaches or chronic pain), it may take longer for you to recover
  • Receiving another concussion before the brain has healed can result in brain swelling, exacerbated symptoms, permanent brain damage, coma, or death – especially in our youth. You should therefore avoid activities that could cause you to jolt, bump, hurt, or cause a blow to be made to your head.
  • If you are a woman (female) it may take you longer to recover and you may have more severe symptoms that your male counterparts.
  • Numerous Concussions (brain injuries) over time may cause you to have ongoing serious long-term problems, including chronic memory challenges, difficulty with concentration, persistent headaches, and occasionally, diminished fine motor/physical skills (such as keeping the ability to stay balanced or walk in a straight line).

After reading all this, the question presents itself as,

“Great! Then what things CAN I do to improve my rehabilitation process?”

After all, that’s why you are here to see what that burning question will reveal, right?!?!

Neuro Optometry
  • 1. Vision Testing –
    • I don’t mean like your typical eye doctor or optometrist/ophthalmologist that you would see to get your vision tested for glasses. or your glasses prescription adjusted. They don’t have the specialized training for the help you may need. I am talking about seeing a Neuro-Ophthalmologist/Optometrist (yes there is a difference). A Neuro Optometrist is trained to diagnose and treat neurological conditions that negatively impact the visual system. A Neuro-Ophthalmologist is a medical doctor that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment/rehabilitation of neurological conditions adversely affecting the visual system and specializes in neurology AND ophthalmology.
    • They specialize in visual problems that relate to the nervous system (brain injury, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and diabetic neuropathy). They help patients rehabilitate their vision with specific visual exercises/eye-training exercises that rewire the brain (neuroplasticity). These exercises can be done in the office during a scheduled appointment or at home with the aim being to reduce symptoms and promote visual recovery. These exercises are designed to improve balance, gait, visual information processing, cognitive skills, visual memory, motor skills, double vision, tracking/scanning problems, inability to focus, loss of central vison, strabismus (eye turning), convergence insufficiency, visual field loss, issues with depth perception, etc.
    • They may also, for some patients, prescribe specific optical lenses called prisms (prism glasses)
    • The treatment from this may last weeks, months, and for some patients – years.
    • See additional information about VISION THERAPY.
Auditory Testing
  • 2. Auditory Testing (hearing tests) –
    • Hearing issues are often overlooked in polytrauma patients because of other visible life threatening injuries that often take medical precedence/priority. However, hearing loss may mask or confuse getting a correct diagnosis for other injuries. Some patients have been diagnosed as being unresponsive or uncooperative when it was their hearing that was affected. Issues with the ear can result in problems related to balance, hearing loss, dizziness, vertigo ( the most common vertigo being benign paroxysmal positional vertigo), tinnitus (ringing in the ear), chronic nausea, and headaches. While some of these changes are reversible, others are not. This is the importance of getting auditory testing completed as soon as possible after a head injury.
    • Dizziness is believed to occur in 40-60% of people with traumatic brain injuries. The ear is also the organ that is the most susceptible to blast exposures. The extent of ear damage from a blast depends on a multitude of factors (size of blast, environment, distance from blast, orientation of ear canal to the blast, open or closed area during blast). The most common injury from a blast is a ruptured eardrum (tympanic membrane). There are also cases of traumatically induced Meniere’s Disease.
    • Hearing loss as a result of brain injury causes damage to the inner ear or because there is damage to the brain that produces sound. Auditory problems could be mistake for signs of cognitive deficits attributed directly to a brain injury. Hearing loss also exacerbate the social, emotional, and cognitive affects of the brain injury. It is possible to have cognitive affects related to brain injury AND loss of hearing at the same time.
    • Auditory symptoms may include difficulty understanding speech, especially when there is background noise; difficulty locating sounds (knowing where the sounds are coming from); hyperacusis (extreme sensitivity to sounds); tinnitus (ringing in the ears with no external source of the sound); conductive or sensorineural hearing loss ( damage either to the tiny hair cells in your inner ear – known as stereocilia, or to the nerve pathways that lead from your inner ear to the brain); distorted hearing, etc.
  • 3. Speech Therapy –
    • Brain injuries can cause speech, language, thinking, and swallowing problems. Speech therapists treat all these conditions
    • Types of issues treated are dysarthria (when the muscles you use for speech are weak or you have difficulty controlling them causing slurred or slowed speech that can be difficult to understand), aphasia (impairment of language, affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write), improving cognitive communication skills, and improving memory
    • Goals in treatment by a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP)/speech therapist is to help the person speak more clearly; express thoughts more effectively; improve problem-solving, planning, and organization skills; improve speech to make it clearer; reading comprehension skills; improvement of memory using various tools (calendars, notebooks, to-do lists, post-it notes, planner, white boards, etc); learn ways to swallow safely; work on social skills through reading and social cues, etc.
  • 4. SPECT CT –
    • CT and MRI scans provide detailed information on the anatomical structure of the brain. Brain SPECT imaging reveals the function of the brain by measuring blood flow. 
    • Functional brain imaging is not considered a stand-alone diagnostic tool.   While there are varying levels of acceptance among the neurological and psychiatric conditions, the science and technology have been research for decades and there are hundreds of published research studies utilizing SPECT for the evaluation of the various conditions.
    • See our article – SPECT CT
  • 5. Rest
    • Rest and proper sleep is very important after a concussion because it helps the brain to heal. Ignoring their symptoms and trying to “tough it out” often makes symptoms worse.  Physical and cognitive rest is often recommended, however this varies greatly depending on the health of the brain prior to the injury, as well as the force sustained.
    • These activities, patients are advised by healthcare providers to rest from after a brain injury include: reading, using a computer, watching television, playing video games, or working on school assignments. For many people, physical and mental rest until symptoms subside is the only treatment needed for a concussion or other head injury.
    •  During the first 24 hours, the brain needs as much rest as possible, including minimizing mental, and physical stimulation.
    • After 24 hours, if the injured is symptom-free, the injured person may begin the “relative rest” progressive protocol. Relative rest refers to avoiding any mental or physical activity that provokes the concussion-related symptom (for example if they participate in a physical activity and it increases symptoms, then stop that particular activity)
    • Each day a person can add more mental and physical exertion, as long as their activities don’t provoke any concussion symptoms. It is advised to avoid any strenuous exercise for a week or so. If you want to keep exercising, try to keep it light. If you’re a runner, for example, try walking. It’s also best to avoid any heavy lifting for a week. Moderate activity over the long term helps reduce effects of depression, feelings of isolation,
    • Regardless of the severity of your concussion (brain injury), you should be symptom-free before returning to normal activity, and your condition should be carefully monitored by your doctors.

“NEVER GIVE UP ON A HEAD INJURED PATIENT. – Recovery Occurs for the rest of a person’s life. Give people the type of treatment that they deserve. ~David Hovda, PhD

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