Most people with a brain injury are expected to experience a normal life span but families and carers can play a crucial role by monitoring for any further medical problems arising post-injury, particularly after hospital.
Problems may not always be as obvious as brain injuries can be invisible. Carers should be aware of some potential consequences so valuable treatment time is not lost in the case of the following:
Muscle and bone abnormalities
Heterotopic ossification (HO) is abnormal bone growth, most commonly in the hips, shoulders, knees and elbows. It is bone growing in unusual places like soft tissue – and usually occurs within the first nine months of injury. While a carer can keep an eye out by looking for swelling around joints or decreased range of motion, it would normally be picked up by a GP or a physiotherapist. It is treatable with medication that slows bone growth.
Other effects post brain injury might be arthritis, osteoporosis, worsening spasticity (involuntary muscle stiffness) and dystonias (muscle problems causing movement disorders). These should all be reported to the clinical team, as these are warnings of future problems.
Hearing problems can occur, particularly when there has been trauma to the inner ear or temporal lobes as the temporal lobe affects hearing. The clinical team should be performing the correct examinations alongside behavioural observations to monitor hearing loss.
Vision and perception should be evaluated by a GP or an optometrist. If needed, an optometrist or occupational therapist can teach methods for compensating for vision disorders. An ophthalmologist should be part of the ongoing process.
Visual processing should be monitored. Symptoms of disfunction are double vision, rapid eye movement and near-sightedness.
Nerve and hormones disorders
The neuroendocrine system is where nerves and hormones interact, and functions to regulate the body. Following brain injury, the neuroendocrine system should be monitored, particularly in the early stages. There are unfortunately reports of difficulties in the years following, with problems such as weight gain, changes in hair and skin, body temperature and thyroid changes.
Signs of neuroendocrine damage include chronic sleep disturbances, blood pressure abnormalities, increased infections and complaints of arthritis.