Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can significantly affect many cognitive, physical, and psychological skills. Physical deficit can include ambulation, balance, coordination, fine motor skills, strength, and endurance. Cognitive deficits of language and communication, information processing, memory, and perceptual skills are common. Psychological status is also often altered. People suffering from TBI frequently encounter issues with adjusting to disability.
Brain injury can occur in many ways. Traumatic brain injuries typically result from accidents in which the head strikes an object. This is the most common type of traumatic brain injury. However, other brain injuries, such as those caused by insufficient oxygen, poisoning, or infection, can cause similar deficits.
Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) is characterized by one or more of the following symptoms:
- A brief loss of consciousness
- Loss of memory immediately before or after the injury,
- Any alteration in mental state at the time of the accident, or
- Focal neurological deficits.
In many MTBI cases, the person seems fine on the surface, yet continues to endure chronic functional problems. Some people suffer long-term effects of MTBI, known as post-concussion syndrome (PCS). Persons suffering from PCS can experience significant changes in cognition and personality.
Most traumatic brain injuries result in widespread damage to the brain because the brain ricochets inside the skull during the impact of an accident. Diffuse axonal injury occurs when the nerve cells are torn from one another. Localized damage also occurs when the brain bounces against the skull. The brain stem, frontal lobe, and temporal lobes are particularly vulnerable to this because of their location near bony protrusions.
The brain stem is located at the base of the brain. Aside from regulating basic arousal and regulatory functions, the brain stem is involved in attention and short-term memory. Trauma to this area can lead to disorientation, frustration, and anger. The limbic system, higher up in the brain than the brain stem, helps regulate emotions. Connected to the limbic system are the temporal lobes, which are involved in many cognitive skills such as memory and language. Damage to the temporal lobes, or seizures in this area, have been associated with a number of behavioral disorders. The frontal lobe is almost always injured due to its large size and its location near the front of the cranium. The frontal lobe is involved in many cognitive functions and is considered our emotional and personality control center. Damage to this area can result in decreased judgment and increased impulsivity.
More and more evidence is emerging about the role of repeated head injuries in the development of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Unfortunately deaths of several NFL players and/or related homicides have been linked to CTE. Symptoms can include depression, memory loss and cognitive issues including dementia. Because the brain must be examined directly to confirm damage, CTE is very difficult to diagnose in someone alive.