In recognition of brain injury awareness month, I would like to talk about traumatic brain injury and the role of speech therapy in the recovery process. Many people don’t realize this, but speech-language pathologists are experts in treating brain disorders such as stroke, dementia, and traumatic brain injury. Brain injuries fall within one of two different categories: acquired or traumatic.
Acquired brain injury occurs when someone has a stroke, seizure, infection, tumor, or lack of oxygen that affects the brain. Traumatic brain injury (TBI), on the other hand, occurs after a sudden blow to the head – examples include from a car accident, sports injury, or fall.
TBIs can range from mild to severe. In a severe case, the person is usually in a coma or vegetative state; however, with the help of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy they can regain some or all function after a lengthy recovery – typically a year or more. In general, the length of time someone is unconscious due to head injury is associated with worse long-term outcomes, but this isn’t always the case; roughly half of those who suffer a severe TBI recover the ability to function at home for at least part of their day.
A mild TBI, also known as a concussion, typically resolves within 2-4 weeks from the injury. The CDC estimates, between the years 2001 and 2009, over two and a half million children were treated for sports or recreation related brain injuries; however, the true number is likely higher due to unreported mild concussions. Common concussion symptoms include difficulty concentrating, memory problems, difficulty thinking of words, sensitivity to lights and sounds, headaches, dizziness, sleep problems, and changes in mood – depression, anxiety, and irritability. When these symptoms persist for longer than a few weeks, also known as post-concussion syndrome, speech therapy may be helpful to retrain the brain and develop strategies to improve daily functioning at work or school.
Brain injuries are often referred to as “invisible injuries” because it is not always obvious that someone has had a brain injury just by looking at them. Depending on the severity of the brain injury and setting (e.g., inpatient vs. outpatient), speech therapists assist in developing strategies and approaches to help each individual overcome the unique challenges that arise from their brain injury. To treat difficulty concentrating or focusing, for instance, a speech therapist will introduce activities designed to exercise the attention part of the brain. For difficulty with remembering important day-to-day information, a speech therapist will teach different strategies to improve memory recall.
If you, or someone you know, is dealing with hardship related to a brain injury, please contact Steven Mazzafield, Speech-Language Pathologist, at 563-568-3411.