Because of underreporting and co-occurring injuries. the number of brain injuries is difficult to pinpoint exactly. However, even then, it’s much larger than most people would expect. According to the CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), there are approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. who suffer from a traumatic brain injury each year. Of those, 50,000 people die from TBI each year and 85,000 will suffer long-term disabilities.
Brain injuries are classified depending on how they originate. An acquired brain injury (ABI) includes any brain injury acquired after birth. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a type of ABI which involves an insult to the brain by an external force. An ABI can result from a number of conditions not considered external, such as tumors, toxins, degenerative diseases, strokes, or oxygen deprivation.
Picture of a Traumatic Brain Injury
A TBI is usually accompanied by a medical crisis, such as a blow to the head, violent shaking of the head, extreme force from a whiplash-type injury, or a violent wound. A TBI can be as obvious as a head injury sustained in a car accident or be as innocuous as knocking your head on a table.
The severity of a TBI can range from mild, involving a brief change in mental state or consciousness, to severe, which may include an extended period of unconsciousness or significant memory loss or cognitive impairment. A TBI is unlike any other bodily injury because when the immediate medical emergency is resolved, a brain injury is far from over. It’s just beginning.
Unlike a broken leg or heart blockage which involves one specific part of the body, a brain injury can affect multiple body systems and alter the person’s personality, intelligence, and mental abilities as well as physical capabilities and senses. Think about it, your brain is literally involved in every single thing your body does.
When a TBI happens, one minute the person’s life is ho-hum normal and in the next instance, their life can be abruptly and forever changed. No two brain injuries are alike and no two paths to recovery are the same. Having sustained a traumatic brain injury can increase a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and psychiatric brain disorders.
A Concussion Is A Brain Injury
A concussion is called a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Some mTBIs thankfully are minor requiring little recovery time. However, for some, there is nothing mild about it. The term is misleading as it implies a problem of short-term duration with limited lingering consequences. Concussion recovery times can vary greatly. Most people who sustain a concussion or mild TBI are back to normal within three months. But others endure long-term memory, cognition, and mental processing challenges.
Most people are surprised to learn that it doesn’t necessarily take much to get a concussion, and you don’t have to lose consciousness. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to hit your head. Any impact that gives the brain inside the skull a good shake, such as a blow to the chest, can cause a concussion. A concussion is diagnosed by symptoms, which can include headaches, nausea, dizziness, inability to remember, irritability, insomnia or sensitivity to light or noise.
NFL players have helped us to better understand the serious long-term consequences of concussions. One study examined the brains of deceased former NFL football players and found that 110 out of 111 brains had brain damage which has come to be known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma (often athletes).
Leading Causes of Brain Injury
The primary causes of brain injuries vary with age. For example, falls are the leading cause of brain injury among the elderly and being struck by or against an object is most prevalent in the 15-24 age group. The age groups at the highest risk of a traumatic brain injury are toddlers between the ages of 0 and 4 and teens from 15-19. For military personnel, blasts are the leading cause of TBI, and certain military duties — such as paratrooper — increase the risk of sustaining a TBI.
We’ve all heard about football causing brain injury but surprisingly many sports do also. While sports injuries rarely result in fatalities, traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death from a sports-related injury. Sports and recreational activities most likely to result in a traumatic brain injury are in order:
- Baseball and Softball
- Water Sports (Diving, Scuba Diving, Surfing, Swimming, Water Polo, Water Skiing, Water Tubing)
- Powered Recreational Vehicles (ATVs, Dune Buggies, Go-Carts, Minibikes, Off-road
- Fitness/Exercise/Health Club
- Winter Sports (Skiing, Sledding, Snowboarding, Snowmobiling)
- Horseback Riding
- Other Ball Sports and Balls, Unspecified
- Roller and Inline Skating
Symptoms of a Brain Injury
You would think that if you had a brain injury you would know it, right?
You may not realize that the physical or mental conditions you are experiencing are indicative of a brain injury. Symptoms of a brain injury can show up immediately, or may not present until days, weeks, or even longer. If you’ve had a fall, sports injury, auto accident, it’s important that you seek medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms:
- excessive sleepiness,
- difficulty speaking,
- trouble walking, vomiting,
- extremity weakness or numbness,
- changes in behavior,
- difficulty concentrating or
- dilated pupils.
My Brain Injury and Recovery
In 2007, I tried to commit suicide by swallowing an assortment of pills, mostly brain drugs, and although I survived, my brain was stuck in a drugged stupor. (Read the full story here.) When I woke up from the coma I’d been in for the past week, I was barely there.
I couldn’t focus on anything for more than a few seconds, and my brain couldn’t make sense of what it was seeing before it. To my surprise, garbled noises and mutilated words spewed from my mouth when I spoke. What did come out was disturbingly slow and flat. The sluggishness of my speech was an indication of how quickly my brain was working – not very fast.
Over the year after the attempt, I naturally recovered enough to resume living independently but was still mentally impaired with symptoms of the brain injury. I had short-term memory problems, an inability to focus, aphasia, poor social skills, no math aptitude, and little impulse control.
By then, I’d healed enough emotionally to decide that I did want to live, and I promised myself, “I AM NOT living like this!” So, I started learning everything I could about rebuilding my brain and tried anything that might help me. For years, through exercise, mindfulness, meditation, other tools, and neuroplasticity, I continued my daily dedication to my rehabilitation, gained momentum, and improved. (You can read about what I did to recover here.)
The more I learned, the better I got, and the better I got, the more I learned. It worked, and I recovered fully. 🙂