Traumatic Brain Injuries: Common Misconceptions
Few civilians realize that each war has a trademark wound. In Vietnam it was gunshot wounds and explosion-induced missing limbs. In the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the wounds were a hodge-podge of gunshots, missing limbs, and the more difficult to identify, traumatic brain injury (TBI). According to the Center for Deployment Psychology, an estimated 10–20% of all service members who served in operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom sustained a TBI. Traumatic brain injuries are among the most common “new” war injury experienced by soldiers today, yet they are also one of the most misunderstood.
- All traumatic brain injuries have the same symptoms. Traumatic brain injuries are not easy to categorize into a single grouping of symptoms. Each individual is different, and each individual brain is different too. When the brain experiences trauma it heals at different rates depending on the area of the injury. Sometimes, an injury can go unnoticed for several weeks or months until the injured part of the brain needs to perform a certain function.
- Mild brain injuries heal faster than severe brain injuries. Modern and conventional wisdom tells us that when an injury is not very bad, it will heal quickly. However, when dealing with the brain this is not always true. Mild brain trauma does typically resolve in approximately 3 months, yet cognitive functions can be impaired for much longer. Mild injuries also increase the chance for mental illness, depression, insomnia, and other mental disturbances. The problem with mild brain trauma is magnified when these lingering social or mental impairments compound upon themselves (i.e. loss of memory causing depression, depression in turn resulting in insomnia etc.).
- Brain injuries always show up in medical exams. The brain is a complex and multifaceted organ. Medical technology is quite advanced, yet cannot see every angle, crevice and crease inside the brain. Many times, especially with subtle injuries, the functional capacity of the brain can become impaired. Other times, the chemistry of the brain can change resulting in mental or physical impediments that develop over time.
- Traumatic Brain Injury is the same as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While TBI and PTSD can mimic one another, this is the single most damning misconception regarding brain injuries. The origins of each condition are neurobiological in nature; hence the confusion. Symptoms common for both can include dizziness, mood changes, forgetfulness, sleep disruptions, headaches and much more. However, keep in mind that typically TBI features head-related symptoms such as eye-sight issues, sensitivity to light, headaches, dizziness, vertigo and alcohol intolerance. PTSD is typically more associated with mood related impairments such as: anger, restlessness, nightmares, avoidance, fear, and increased startle responsiveness.
While Traumatic Brain Injury is getting more recognition among medical professionals, there is still a lot that is unknown. This includes the understanding of how to treat a TBI patient and how to rehabilitate them. For families of veterans seeking additional information and support the Defence and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) is an excellent resource. With 16 sites DVBIC treats, supports, trains and monitors service members, veterans, family members and providers who care for those who are affected by traumatic brain injury.
Additional TBI information for military families can be found by visiting: http://www.neuroskills.com/brain-injury/veterans-and-traumatic-brain-injury.php
Written by Brook Appelbaum