About Brain Injury

What is brain injury?

The brain controls everything we do, say, think and feel. It controls the very functions that keep us alive: breathing, circulation, digestion, hormones and the immune system. It is through the brain that we experience emotion and express ourselves. Because the consistency of the adult brain tissue is like Jell-O and the consistency of a child’s brain tissue is like pudding, the brain is very vulnerable to injury.  The brain floats in a liquid called cerebrospinal fluid and is encased by the skull, which has very rough areas on the inside surface that have the potential to damage the brain.

When the brain is injured, a person’s abilities and bodily functions may change.  In general, the more serious the injury, the more significant and permanent changes are likely to be.  Some changes caused by brain injury may be subtle but have a major impact on the way a person lives his or her life.

A brain injury is damage to living brain tissue caused by an external or internal insult (e.g. blow to the head, excessive force like shaking/whiplash, bleeding inside the brain, inflammation/swelling, virus that attacks brain) that may result in temporary or permanent cognitive, physical, behavioral and/or emotional changes. There may or may not be a period of unconsciousness immediately following the event. Because each brain injury affects different parts of the brain, each brain injury is unique.

Major causes of brain injury include falls, motor vehicle crashes, violence, concussions, bicycle crashes, lack of oxygen from cardiac arrest, aneurysms, strokes and tumors. Illness that can cause inflammation of the brain, such as encephalitis, may also result in a brain injury. The only known cure for brain injury is prevention.

Brain injury happens to persons throughout all communities, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, socio-economic class, age or any other variable. Some groups, however, generally have a higher incidence of brain injury than others.

Mild brain injury may occur with no loss of consciousness or noticeable physical injury. Persons with mild brain injury may experience symptoms and impairments that are temporary or permanent. A concussion is a mild form of brain injury. Unfortunately, many mild brain injuries go undiagnosed for weeks, months or even years after the injury.

Some people believe that when the brain is injured, it can mend completely – like a broken arm. Unfortunately, brain cells do not regenerate like skin or bone cells. Rehabilitating from a brain injury takes time because damaged cells need to relearn how to do things while the brain uses healthy cells to compensate.

Physical Changes:

  • Frequent headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Blurred or double vision

Cognitive Changes:

  • Short-term memory loss, such as forgetting names or numbers
  • Slowness in thinking
  • Difficulty learning new tasks
  • Trouble making decisions or frequently getting lost

Emotional Changes:

  • More irritable or angry
  • Laughing or crying more often
  • More sad or depressed than before
  • Difficulty sleeping

After a brain injury, individuals vary on how they define or adjust to the changes in their life. Persons who survive brain injuries often find that things will never be the same. Fortunately, many rehabilitation and treatment programs can help persons with brain injury rebuild their lives and achieve more independence.

While it is important to understand changes that may have a negative impact, the best resources for recovery are an individual’s current strengths, abilities and interests. As many individuals with brain injury have said: “It’s not about what you lost – it’s about how you use what you have left!”