Understanding Brain Injury

A Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is one of the most common causes of disability and death in adults in the United States. A TBI happens when an external force causes sudden damage to the brain in one area or in multiple locations. Over 3 million people acquire a brain injury each year in the US, and falls are one of the leading causes. Along with falls, hits to the head and motor vehicle accidents contribute to the vast majority of traumatic brain injuries in the United States. The severity of a brain injury can range from a mild concussion to coma or death. Mild brain injuries with short-term symptoms can improve over time with proper medical care, but more severe injuries may result in permanent disability.

As the nerve center of the body, the brain controls every component of our body. From movement and speaking to decision-making and emotional regulation. These various functions are controlled by specific areas of the brain, and if damage occurs to those areas, a person could have difficulties with tasks that were done without thought prior to the injury. The long-term effects of brain injury may require post-injury and potentially lifelong rehabilitation. Although this is not an exhaustive list, below are some common disabilities related to brain injury:

MRI Scan Image

Cognitive

  • Confusion and disorientation

  • Poor self awareness

  • Memory difficulties

  • Impaired judgment and problem solving

  • Shortened attention span
     

Physical

  • Difficulty with planning movements

  • Poor coordination and balance

  • Paralysis or weakness in specific areas of the body


Communication 

  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech (aphasia)

  • Problems identifying objects and their function

Sensory and Perception

  • Left or right-sided neglect (impaired awareness of one side of the body)

  • Loss of sensation or heightened sensation of specific body parts

  • Changes in Vision, smell, touch, taste, and hearing

Emotional and Psychological

  • Agitation and anger

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Rapid changes in mood

  • Lack of interest in doing meaningful activities

  • Personality changes

Over 5 million people in the United States live with a TBI-related disability, but each person’s needs and the symptoms they experience vary greatly from one individual to another. People with brain injuries are also at a increased risk for developing dementia later in life, and repeated occurrences of head injury increases the risk of dementia development even further, according to recent research. For this reason, people who have brain injuries should be diligent about protecting their head from additional injuries. Occupational therapists are uniquely qualified to support brain injury survivors because they analyze all of the context factors associated with the individual utilizing a holistic approach to achieve desirable goals. Context factors, such as the person’s injury symptoms, medical history, social dynamics, and living environment, to name just a few, all provide nuanced layers to a person’s life that must be considered when supporting someone with a brain injury. 

 

A person’s environment plays an important role in their ability to perform meaningful daily activities. For example, if a kitchen is overly cluttered and prevents easy access to the stove, then a person might be less likely to engage in cooking activities. Enabled Living’s team of occupational therapists are experts at analyzing how an individual performs meaningful tasks in their environment to determine ways in which the environment can be modified or adapted to improve their quality of life. People with brain injuries may require extensive adaptations to promote increased independence, safety, or accessibility in their home, and below are some examples of those modifications.

Modifications for Physical Deficits

  • Ramps, chair lifts, and platform lifts can be installed to increase accessibility outside and inside the home where steps are hard to negotiate 

  • Widening hallways to accommodate mobility devices like a wheelchair or walker

  • Grab bar and handrails can be installed in the bathroom, stairways, or hallways of the home to support balance and reduce the risk of a fall 

  • Lowering counter and cabinet heights for wheelchair users to access appliances and other items needed to participate in meal preparation or cleanup in the kitchen, or to participate in hygiene and grooming tasks in the bathroom

  • Reduce clutter by removing throw rugs and reposition or remove low furniture to reduce the risk of falls

Modifications for Cognitive Deficits

  • Automatic shut-offs for ovens and other electrical appliances used in the kitchen or other areas of the home can be installed to improve safety for someone with memory challenges

  • Use virtual assistant technology, such as Amazon Alexa to orient a loved one to the day and time, the weather, or even set reminders for them to complete various tasks throughout the day 

  • Visual communication supports such as a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) for improved communication with someone who has aphasia, dementia, or another type of communication challenge

  • Calendars and alarms can be used to alert someone to important tasks or events, such as taking daily medications or remembering appointments

  • Install locks, alarms, or buzzers to prevent a loved one from wandering or leaving without someone knowing

Man on Walker

Modifications for Sensory and Perceptual Deficits

  • A muted environment with low lighting for individuals with visual
    sensitivities to loud patterns, colors, or bright lights

  • Soundproofing materials in rooms of the home to decrease sound sensitivities

  • Tape or paint stair edges to increase visibility

  • Remove shiny or glaring surfaces for individuals with depth perception challenges

  • Install smoke detectors, home security systems, and doorbells with flashing lights for individuals with hearing impairments. There are also vibrating alarms and timers that can be used by individuals with hearing loss. 

  • Use contrasting colors to help someone with a visual impairment differentiate between various items and backgrounds

Georgia Brain Injury Resources

The Brain Injury Association of Georgia (BIAG) has a mission to provide hope, help, and support to individuals who have sustained or been affected by a brain injury. There are a variety of resources, support groups, and education to help survivors and their families navigate life after a brain injury (​​https://www.braininjurygeorgia.org/)

 

Side by Side Brain Injury Clubhouse is a non-profit organization that uses a work-oriented day program to support brain injury survivors and their families to redevelop social and work-related skills. This program provides an inclusive environment that gives individuals the opportunity to complete and participate in meaningful activities at their own pace. (https://sidebysideclubhouse.org/)

 

The Brain and Spinal Injury Trust Fund Commission (BSITF) of Georgia distributes funds to support independence and inclusion in the community for brain and spinal cord injury survivors that have exhausted all other funding resources. There are eligibility requirements and guidelines the Commission uses to prioritize funding requests, and you can learn more about them at: https://bsitf.georgia.gov/how-do-i-apply-grant/am-i-eligible

Georgia Tools for Life aims to improve access to and acquisition of assistive technology (AT) devices and services for people of all ages and disabilities that promote independence and inclusion within the community. They also have an equipment exchange program called GTrade, which offers AT devices and information for sale to others who may benefit from using technology that is no longer needed by others.  (https://gatfl.gatech.edu/index.php)