Brain Injury: What to do When Your Loved One is Suffering

September 27, 2018

what happens when the brain becomes injured

The brain is one of the most important yet perplexing parts of the body. We use it for everything – in fact, we need it to function. From lifting a foot, to walking, to running a marathon, our brain sends signals throughout our body that allow us to not only survive, but thrive.

But what happens when the brain becomes injured?

A brain injury is an insult to the brain, caused by either external or internal factors, and may diminish or alter one’s state of consciousness, sometimes resulting in the impairment of physical functioning and/or cognitive abilities.

An astounding 5.3 million Americans (about 2 percent of the population) currently live with disabilities that are related to a brain injury. Acquired brain trauma is the second leading disability in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2013, traumatic brain injury was in whole or in part a diagnosis in more than 282,000 hospitalizations and 2.5 million emergency department visits. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) reports that 80,000 to 90,000 people experience the onset of long-term or lifelong disabilities associated with traumatic brain injuries annually. According to a CDC study cited by the Brain Trauma Foundation, 2,651,581 children 19 years or younger were treated for sports- and recreation-related injuries between 2001 and 2009.

Many different situations can affect the brain. Depending upon the extent of damage to the brain, an injury may be mild, such as a concussion, moderate, or severe, such as a coma. It is important to note that even a mild brain injury should be taken seriously. Any level of injury to the brain can cause changes to many aspects of one’s behavioral and/or mental health including one’s speech, thought, social behavior, and physical functions.

Cognitive changes may include:

  • Memory problems
  • Language problems
  • Difficulty with problem-solving
  • Trouble with processing information/comprehension
  • Poor judgment
  • Shortened attention span
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Difficulty understanding abstract
  • Concepts
  • Impulsivity

Physical changes may include:

  • Seizures
  • Weakness
  • Paralysis (partial or full)
  • Changes in sexual function
  • Sleep difficulty
  • Issues with muscle coordination
  • Sensory changes/sensitivities

Personality and Behavioral changes may include:

  • Inability to control emotions
  • Inability to empathize with others
  • Inappropriate and/or aggressive behavior
  • Depression/Anxiety
  • Increases in irritability and frustration
  • Disinhibition/ lack of restraint in social situations, and risk assessment
  • Difficulty with social skills
  • Lack of ability to see other’s perspective

Types of Brain Injury

There are two types of acquired brain injuries:

  1. Traumatic Brain Injury

A traumatic brain injury is an alteration in brain function or other brain pathology, which is caused by an external force. Traumatic brain injury mechanisms include those involving impact to the head (traumatic impact) and those involving inertial forces on the brain (inertial impact). In this type of brain injury, the head is struck by or against an object. Leading causes of traumatic brain injury include:

Leading Causes of Traumatic Brain Injury

  • Falls (28 percent)
  • Motor vehicle accidents (20 percent)
  • Struck by/against events (19 percent)
  • Assaults (11 percent)

A mild type of traumatic brain injury is called a concussion. Although fairly common, an individual should contact his or her health care professional or go immediately to a hospital emergency department if experiencing any of the following after a bump, jolt, or blow to the head and/or body:

  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness or numbness
  • Decreased coordination
  • Headache that only continues to get worse
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Feeling Foggy/Confused/Off

If you notice that a person has any of the following symptoms after he or she has experienced a bump, jolt, or blow to the head and/or body, call 911 or take them to the emergency department immediately:

  • Look drowsy (cannot wake up)
  • Have convulsions/seizures
  • At any point become unconscious
  • Have one pupil (the black circle in the middle of the eye) larger than the other
  • Are behaving unusually
  • Are having difficult recognizing people or places
  • Appear to be getting more confused, agitated, or restless
  1. Non-Traumatic Brain Injury

Alternately, a non-traumatic brain injury is one which alters brain function or pathology, occurs after birth, is not hereditary, congenital, or degenerative, and is caused by an internal force. This may include injuries caused by:

  • Tumor
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain (e.g. heart attack)
  • Stroke
  • Aneurysm
  • Near drowning
  • Infectious disease which affects the brain (e.g. meningitis)
  • Drug overdose
  • Suicide attempts

Symptoms of brain trauma vary greatly depending upon the circumstances and the severity of the head injury. They may appear right away or may not present themselves for days or even weeks after the injury takes place. Per the AANS, symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Breathing problems
  • Body numbness or tingling
  • Cerebrospinal fluid coming out of the ears or nose (clear or blood-tinged)
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness or problems with balance
  • Droopy eyelid or overall facial weakness
  • Headache
  • Inappropriate emotional reactions
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Loss of bowel control
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Paralysis
  • Ringing in ears or any changes in hearing
  • Slow rate of breathing with increased blood pressure
  • Slow pulse
  • Slurred speech or other speech difficulties
  • Vision changes
  • Vomiting

Infants and young children often lack the ability to communicate any of the aforementioned symptoms. If an infant or young child has in fact experienced a traumatic brain injury, you should be aware of and take notice of any of the following symptoms:

  • Change in ability to pay attention
  • Change in eating or nursing habits
  • Change in sleep patterns or behavior
  • Drowsiness
  • Inability to be consoled
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities or toys for no other apparent reason
  • Sad or depressed mood
  • Seizures
  • Persistent crying
  • Unusually or easily irritated

What Should You Do if You Believe Someone Has Experienced a Brain Injury
What Should You Do if You Believe Someone Has Experienced a Brain Injury?

For everyone who suffers a brain injury, the recovery process varies. Although it usually occurs over a long period of time, most individuals who sustain a minor traumatic brain injury recover their functional abilities within about two to four weeks. On average, recovery can take anywhere from months to years, but early intervention and management is the most effective way to reduce the level of disability that your loved one may experience.

To set your loved one up for the best possible recovery, here are some important steps to take:

  1. Go to the hospital

    One of the more serious consequences of having a brain injury is that often the individual does not know that a brain injury has even occurred. Immediately following any of the aforementioned symptoms, or following significant physical impact or injury, it is important to either call 911 or take your loved one directly to the hospital. At the hospital, he or she will undergo an evaluation in the emergency department. This includes an assessment of cardiac & pulmonary function, neurological function, and an overall assessment of the body, followed by any ordered radiological tests. This initial treatment aids in the stabilization of the individual in question.
  2. Assist your loved one in following up with his or her physician

    It is a good idea to follow up with one’s physician in order to know what is recommended. Treatment may require rest, medication, and/or surgery. However, it is common for more moderate to severe brain injuries to require ongoing rehabilitation. It’s important to choose a facility that understands the varying dynamics of brain injury and has proven experience aiding in the recovery of many individuals.

    Other specialists that you or your loved one may need to see after suffering a brain injury include:
  • Neurologists
  • Neuropsychologists
  • Internal Medicine Doctors
  • Insurance Adjusters
  • Ear, Nose and Throat Doctors (ENT)
  • Dietitians
  • Nurses
  • Occupational Therapists (OT)
  • Ophthalmologists
  • Physical Therapists (PT)
  • Plastic Surgeons
  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychologists
  • Radiologists
  • Recreation Therapists
  • Rehabilitation Medicine Physicians
  • Social Workers
  • Speech/Language Pathologists
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors
  • Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapists
  1. Do your own due diligence and enroll in a rehabilitation program (whether for outpatient or residential treatment)

    With more than 20 years of experience assisting individuals with diagnosed brain injuries, New Vitae Wellness and Recovery is a leading brain injury rehabilitation treatment center. A Commission of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)-accredited organization, New Vitae’s Action Recovery programs serve adults in Bucks County and the Lehigh Valley, in Pennsylvania, as well as New York, New Jersey, and the surrounding areas. Though not the immediate solution upon injury, we provide maintenance, transitional and long-term solutions to help encourage your continued improvement.

Evidence-Based Practices

The importance of rehabilitation for brain injuries lies in channeling the body’s natural healing mechanisms and abilities in order to recover as much as possible in a fairly quick and efficient manner. This may include relearning things such as walking or eating, or learning new ways to compensate for permanent injuries. Through rehabilitation, it is the hope that individuals will be enabled and empowered to perform activities of daily living safely on their own, in order to go on to lead more independent lives.

Often, insurance companies will limit the number of days in which a person can participate in a rehabilitation program. Ensuring the right rehabilitation program, with the most appropriate, customized intervention, is of the utmost importance.

New Vitae = New Life

Through the use of evidence-based practices and ethical care, New Vitae Wellness and Recovery’s Action Recovery program can help your loved one to progress towards his or her personal goals. New Vitae offers additional service opportunities. These opportunities include specialized medical and residential services.

One’s family, friends, and allies are the most important part of his or her recovery team, and should be supported. In addition to these individuals, the New Vitae Brain Injury Recovery Team includes:

  • Physicians
  • Psychologists
  • Licensed Social Workers
  • Nurses
  • Cognitive Therapists
  • Rehabilitation Technicians

Brain Injury Services

One of the most difficult aspects of having a loved one experience a brain injury is the behavioral health hurdle of transitioning to independent living once many skills have been lost. Whether providing outpatient or residential treatment, New Vitae offers cutting-edge support by providing specialized treatment through Action Recovery services. These recovery services have been accredited by CARF. Some of these specialized services include:

  • Assistance with daily living tasks
  • Medication administration
  • Structured program
  • Establishment and maintenance of community connections
  • Community integration
  • Prevocational work

Individuals receiving support through Action Recovery are assessed to determine which skill areas require the most support. Through modeling, practice, and positive reinforcement, some of the skills that can be improved upon include:

  • Household management
  • Reading and interpreting bills
  • Meal preparation and planning
  • Clothing care
  • Social pragmatics
  • Community navigation

All choices within the Action Recovery program, which include clinical services, are designed to meet the needs of each individual, their family members, and allies. Dependent upon each person’s unique situation, New Vitae offers respite care, transitional living services, and long-term care. It emphasizes trauma-informed care.


Due to the nature of their work, members of the military are at a higher risk for traumatic brain injury. This is a direct result of a couple of factors. Men ages 18 to 24, who comprise much of the military, are at the highest risk for traumatic brain injury. Additionally, members of the military are often deployed to active war zones where they are at risk for having exposure to blasts.

According to research conducted in 2005 by the Defense and Veterans Brain Center (DVBIC), the blasts in combination with other mechanisms are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury for active duty personnel.  In recent years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has implemented a nationwide system for those in need of care. New Vitae’s personal care homes and behavioral health clinic have passed annual inspection with the VA, ensuring the safety and well-being of these veterans. New Vitae has established relationships with VA Mental Health Treatment Coordinators, and works hand-in-hand with local veteran administration offices. Although the cost of services is generally offset by insurance, New Vitae offers funding for services through its recent appropriation.

What can be done to reduce the risk of brain injury?

  • Never drive under the influence of any drugs or alcohol
  • Always wear your seat belt
  • Wear a helmet and protective gear when riding a bicycle or participating in any contact or extreme sports
  • Use the correct child safety equipment properly
  • Promote awareness and understanding of ABI

Experiencing a brain injury should not be taken lightly. It is important to seek the correct help to minimize the possibility of any long-lasting effects. New Vitae Wellness and Recovery can provide the right therapy to do just that. Specializing in treatment for those with a brain injury, behavioral health issues, and addiction, we serve as a long-term solution toward a more full recovery. For more information about the many services it provides, contact New Vitae Wellness and Recovery today.

"On “special occasion” visiting days they always provide a welcoming good meal, some entertainment or a little education for the challenges we have to face as family members and care givers."

- Marge T. (ally)