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Get The Facts

The many effects of a brain injury

Information Services
 
 

Brain injury effects

The many effects of a brain injury

A brain injury is potentially one the most devastating disabilities as it can impact on virtually every aspect of what we think, feel, say and do in everyday life. 

The range and severity of problems vary for each person, but the purpose of this fact sheet is to show how difficult the recovery period is after a brain injury - many say it is the greatest challenge they have ever faced in their lives.

 

This is by no means a comprehensive list but covers some of the more common problems of brain disorders such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), brain tumours, Alzheimer's disease, meningitis, encephalitis and epilepsy. 

 

Myths & misconceptions

A brain injury is often called the invisible disability. Often there are no outward physical signs of a disability so it is easy to accuse a person of being lazy, self-centred, rude, dumb or moody when they are dealing with very real issues caused directly by a traumatic brain injury and other brain disorders.

 

This fact sheet should help family members, partners and friends understand how a brain injury can impact on a person's life, and be able to provide more effective support as a result. 

 

Cognitive changes after a brain injury

Cognition is simply the brain working to perceive, think, learn, understand and remember. Problems with our cognition will often only become apparent with time. 

 

Short-term memory problems are very common after a brain injury, and a range of strategies are needed to help with remembering names, appointments and all aspects of daily life. 

 

Poor concentration and attention are very common outcomes, causing people to be distracted easily or jump from one task to the next. Family members often misunderstand these problems and think the person is being lazy or deliberately rude by not listening to them. 

 

Slowed responses occur because it takes longer for a person to process information then answer. People who do not understand brain injuries may think the person is not intelligent, but they simply need time to form a response. Stress can arise when there is too much information to process at once, so a person may struggle in group conversations or when returning to the workplace. 

 

Sensory overload and fatigue are similar problems, where if the brain receives too much information at once then this can become very stressful. Noisy, crowded or complicated environments such as a supermarket can be very difficult to cope with. Fatigue is an almost universal symptom after a brain injury - people need to ensure they don't push themselves too hard or it can lead to several days of extreme tiredness. 

 

Poor planning and problem-solving  is common with many brain injuries. People may encounter trouble with open-ended decision-making and complex tasks need to be broken down into a step-by-step fashion.

 

Lack of insight can create many problems as a person loses their ability to realize when their thoughts, speech and behaviour are inappropriate. They may even refuse to believe that the brain injury has affected them at all. Providing frequent, clear and simple feedback is needed, and often positive behaviour support plans are needed for challenging behaviours. 

 

Lack of initiative is when a person with a brain injury has trouble taking the first steps to begin a task - it is often seen as laziness by those who don't understand the effects of a brain injury. Complex tasks need to be broken into small steps, and regular prompting may be needed. 

 

Inflexibility and self-centred behaviour can occur after a brain injury. Our ability to see others' points of view, adapt to new situations, listen to others, and see 'shades of gray' can be lost after a brain injury. These problems only worsen if others assume it is deliberate behaviour and react, instead of responding appropriately to these issues caused by the brain injury. 

 

Impulsive behaviour and irritability can arise after a frontal lobe injury - a person loses the filtering system that makes them stop and think before doing or saying something inappropriate. This can lead to a wide range of problems with relationships, behaviour in public, finances and drug use. It usually goes hand in hand with a low tolerance for frustration.

 

Emotional changes are common after a brain injury. There can be rapid mood changes, stronger than normal emotional reactions, or inappropriate emotions such as laughing at a sad situation. Depression is very common and understandable when a brain injury influences so many aspects of life for the worse. A brain injury tends to make a person susceptible to other mental disorders as well. 

 

This is not an exhaustive list and only covers common cognitive issues - there are hundreds of lesser known problems such as not being able to remember how to get home, the inability to recognize faces, and recognizing an object but not being able to name it. 

 

Physical changes after a brain injury

Loss of taste and smell can occur after a traumatic brain injury if the olfactory nerve is damaged by bony protusions within the skull.

 

Dizziness and balance problems can emerge after damage to the brain stem or injury to the inner ear.

 

Seizures and epilepsy are chronic medical conditions produced by temporary changes in the electrical function of the brain which are fairly common outcomes after a brain injury. Medication is usually quite effective, and seizures often diminish with time. 

 

Headaches are extremely common after a brain injury, especially the tension headache usually caused by microscopic damage to nerves within the brain. Any headaches should be reported to your doctor in case in case it is a symptom of a serious medical issue. 

 

Visual problems include double vision, field cuts, sector losses, rapid eye movement and near-sightedness depending on which parts of the brain have been affected. There are many compensatory strategies available to manage vision issues. 

 

Paralysis can occur in differing degrees  depending on which part of the brain has been injured. Effects can include poor coordination, difficulty walking, visual difficulties or weakness on one side of the body.

 

Hearing problems arise after either mechanical or neurological injury. Tinnitus, hyeracusis (sensitivity to sound), Meniere's syndrome and auditory agnosia are some of the more common issues after a brain injury.

 

Coordination and proprioception issues affect our movement and balance. Proprioception involves our perception of where our body parts are, even if we can't see them. In effect, the brain can lose its ability to know where your limbs are. 

 

Sexual changes after a brain injury can include a loss or increase in sexual drive, inability to orgasm, pain and discomfort during sex, and sexually inappropriate behaviour. 

 

Sleep disorders are very common after a brain injury. Although some may have problems with getting too much sleep, the usual sleep disorder is trouble sleeping at night, particularly problems with timing of sleep, then feeling drowsy during the day.

 

There are many other less common physical problems after a brain injury, such as an inability to regulate body temperature, abnormal bone growth in selected joints and chronic neuroendocrine difficulties. 

  

The need for understanding

It is very important for family members, partners, friends and employers to fully understand TBI and other brain disorders so that instead of simply reacting and being part of the problem, they can respond appropriately and be part of the solution. 

 

 

 

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