There’s been more attention given to this recently, especially as it relates to athletes and concussions. Still, there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to traumatic brain injury (abbreviated TBI), which often find their way into fictional writing.
To begin with, TBI is separated into Mild and Severe cases. The determining factor between the two is how long the victim remains unconscious or disoriented after the injury. More than 30 minutes and it’s severe. Less and it’s considered mild. Even mild cases can be devastating, especially since MRI and CAT scans will often show as normal and the injury may go untreated.
Each case of TBI is highly individual. Many factors can increase a person’s risk for serious side effects and complicate their recovery, and symptoms can be physical, cognitive, or emotional.
- Age – young children will often experience more far-reaching effects from head injury
- Traumatic axonal injury – cases in which large amounts of white matter are affected
- Education – individuals with less education tend to experience more symptoms and a more difficult recovery
- Multiple head traumas, especially within a short period of time
Effects and Symptoms:
- Abnormal states of consciousness ranging from stupor to brain death
- Impaired communication skills
- Trouble swallowing
- Dilated pupils
- Memory loss
- Executive dysfunction
- Partial or total loss of one or more senses
- Difficulty with higher cognitive functions such as reasoning
- Mood swings or aggressive/rebellious behavior
- Limited function of arms or legs
- Attention deficiency
- Slow reaction time
Again, every case is different, but rest is always essential to recovery. Sufferers should avoid any situations that put them at risk for further head injury, no matter how minor. They should also refrain from driving and other activities that could become dangerous due to the sudden onset of symptoms. Alcohol and medication that has not been approved by the patient’s doctor should be avoided.
Those with more serious injuries will often need occupational and/or physical therapy to help regain lost skills or mobility. In the days and weeks immediately following the injury, a patient may be instructed to avoid stimulation as much as possible by resting in a dark and quiet room. After this phase, returning to normal activities can aid in the recovery process (provided the patient keeps their limitations in mind). Fatigue is a common side effect during recovery, so victims will likely not be able to complete a full day’s work. They may also not be as self-aware as they were before and may not recognize behavioral side effects.
Recovery can be a long and difficult road and many suffer permanent effects. When writing, it’s important to remember that the more serious the injury and initial symptoms, the more long-term the effects will be for both them and their loved ones.
For further reading, check out The Traumatized Brain: A Family Guide to Understanding Mood, Memory, and Behavior after Brain Injury or Mindstorms: The Complete Guide for Families Living with Traumatic Brain Injury.
Dee is a moderator and blogger for Story Scribes. In her downtime she tries out various crafts, plays video games, and makes music. Currently, she’s working on a fantasy story that’s been trying to escape for a few years.