This is the third segment of our Common Car Accident Injuries series, where we will discuss the processes for recovering from a traumatic brain injury (TBI) following an auto crash. The Center for Disease Control & Prevention says TBI is a major cause of disability and death in the country. They estimate that 153 fatalities occur each day following these head injuries and those that are non-fatal may be short-term or last for the remainder of someone's life. In 2013, approximately 2.8 million individuals visited the emergency room, were hospitalized, or lost their lives from a TBI. Overall, automobile accidents are the third most common cause of TBIs. Cost estimates associated with direct and indirect costs of care exceed $76 billion.
What is a TBI?
A TBI occurs after a strike or jolt to the head that alters ordinary brain function. Those injuries that are classified as mild are characterized by brief lapses in status or unconsciousness. A severe injury likely results in lengthy periods of memory loss or unconsciousness. In the U.S. roughly 5 million people are coping with a TBI and the effects can extend into most facets of life. They may negatively impact relationships, employment, driving capabilities, or the ability to conduct day-to-day necessities. These injuries are volatile and rehabilitation may take months or years to determine the long-term consequences.
Initial Recovery from Severe Brain Injury
Following a severe brain injury the individual may be in an unconscious state (coma) for a period of days or weeks. When they awaken, they are likely to be in a disoriented state, unsure of what had occurred. The person's short-term memory may be very poor and they may repeat themselves and be forgetful. Typically, that will last for days or weeks, usually it corresponds to the length of time they were unconscious.
How the Brain Naturally Recovers
The length of recovery relates to the seriousness of the injury and potentially some of these other factors:
- Injury severity
- Extent of brain damage
- Stress level
- Quality & consistency of rehabilitation
- How and when normal routines resume.
The brain is one part of the body that does not regenerate dead neurons; fortunately, there are many billions of them. The brain does have the ability to alter the way it functions, such as by having healthy segments of the brain assume new responsibilities. This phenomenon known as plasticity is when it establishes new paths of conducting activity. Part of rehabilitation involves encouraging the brain to create new ways of operating to reduce the impairment caused by the injury. Taking part in regular activity is a way to assist the brain's progress and development. Rehabilitation may be beneficial to caretakers or family members of the injury victim so that they may adopt realistic expectations and acquire knowledge about recovery methods.
There are a variety of symptoms including the following:
- Persistent headache
- Feelings of weakness & numbness
- Poor coordination or balance
- Impaired speech, vision, or hearing
- Depression, anxiety, & impulsiveness
- Difficulty concentrating and recalling.
Settings for Rehabilitation & Recovery
Acute Rehab: This is a trauma department located within a hospital, rehab center, or other inpatient facility. A team of medical professionals will work to have the patient begin to resume as many day-to-day activities as possible.
Post-Acute Rehabilitation: These places may include transitional rehab centers that try to make the individual more independent by conducting therapy for 6 or more hours per day. This type of rehab is considered the best way for improvement.
Sub-Acute Rehabilitation: Those whose injuries are such that they are not suitable for intensive post-acute care are likely to undergo rehab in this setting. It consists of lower-intensity rehab over an extended time period. Often those who have made some minor progress in an acute setting may be a good fit for this environment which is typically in a skilled nursing center or nursing home.
Day Treatment: This type of setting offers a structured daytime schedule and allows the individual to return home at night. Many of those transitioning from an inpatient setting may enter these programs.
Outpatient Therapy: These programs are geared for continuous or ongoing long-term improvement. This may be the initial option for those with minor brain injuries.
TBIs can be mild or serious. Either way, they pose a risk to a person's quality of life.
In the next part of this series, we address another complicated injury: complex and multiple bone fractures. These injuries, too, can be mild to severe, simple to complex with effects lasting for a short period or throughout the duration of your life.