5 Ways Traumatic Brain Injuries Affect Brain Functionality
Traumatic brain injuries––or TBI––affect more than 2.5 million people annually in the US alone. These injuries impact individuals both physically and psychologically, and the effects can range from mild to severe.
TBIs often result from a jolt or blow to the head and are different from head injuries, which include surface-level injuries to the face or neck. The disruption damages the nerves, interfering with communication between neurons and hijacking neurotransmitter transmissions. CDC data states that 35% of TBIs result from falls, 17% from motor vehicle-related accidents, and 17% from objects hitting the head during sports. The more we learn about TBIs, the more we can recognize them when they occur and take steps to get the affected individuals diagnosed and treated.
1- Motor deficits
The brain forms the core of the nervous system. An injury to the brain damages axons—portions of the nerve cells that complete coordination among nerves. When the nerves cannot communicate normally, patients face neurologic deficits such as vision problems, speech impairments, and muscle weakness. Other symptoms range from fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, slurred speech, loss of balance, and numbness in the arms and legs. These symptoms can appear slowly, taking as long as six to twelve months to develop after the TBI.
2- Cognitive deficits
Cognitive deficits are the most common symptoms in individuals with TBIs.Because TBIs damage the release of neurotransmitters, cognitive impairment can show up regardless of where the brain is injured. These symptoms appear as confusion, shortened attention spans, memory problems, spatial difficulty, inability to problem-solve or process abstract concepts, loss of time, and trouble processing multi-step instructions or commands.
3- Communication disruptions
Depending on where the TBI occurred in our brain, regions controlling speech can become affected in a variety of ways. Patients can have difficulty finding the right word, even though they know it. They can struggle to form sentences in the right word order, have difficulty comprehending what is being said to them, not be able to speak or struggle to identify and name objects that they once knew. Other communication problems can be losing the ability to read or write, and even being able to comprehend or work with numbers anymore.
4- Loss of situational awareness
Usually, the brain enables us to be aware of ourselves and our environments. This extends to learning habit routines for things like brushing our teeth or tying our shoes. We’re able to understand how organizations work and the expectations society has when we’re in public settings. However, when a TBI occurs, this awareness can become confused or lost. This can come across as being unaware that our moods have changed or that our reactions are different than what they once were. We can forget how to complete tasks we once knew or get distracted and off-task easily.
5- Difficulty regulating emotions
Being able to regulate our emotions is complicated in a healthy brain. But the problem becomes even more difficult when a TBI is involved. Our emotions are controlled by the balance and release of neurotransmitters. And those neurotransmitters are released based on a complex network involving the limbic system, made up of the hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, and thalamus. Even if those specific regions aren’t damaged, if the nerve cells to a single one is impacted, our emotional regulation can become unstable. In addition, frustration over other symptoms such as not being able to solve problems the way we once were, or difficulty controlling parts of our body can cause frustration, depression, or other emotional reactions that can become worse over time.
Traumatic brain injuries affect millions of people every year. They can occur in simple household accidents or while enjoying physical pastimes. It’s important to recognize the symptoms of a TBI so that affected individuals can seek diagnosis and treatment.