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Brain Injuries

When thinking of head injuries, it is easy to imagine that they could occur during extreme sports or automobile accidents. However, the most common cause of head injuries is falling. Especially prone to falling head injuries are those less than 4 years old and those older thank 64. Males are also at greater risk of head injury, particularly those between 16 and 19 years old. Montana ranks second in the United States for cases of traumatic brain injury where, according to the Montana Research and Economic Development Initiative, 13% of adult Montanans are affected by traumatic brain injury.

A traumatic brain injury is an injury inflicted on the brain that can result in permanent disability or death. Caused by bumps, blows, toxins, or a penetrating force to the head, the severity of a brain injury is rated by the period of unconsciousness. A period greater than 30 minutes of unconsciousness is classified as a traumatic brain injury (TBI). An unconscious event less than 30 minutes is categorized as a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Mild traumatic brain injuries are frequently caused by concussions, the effects of which can last longer than three months. mTBI’s are less severe and often undiagnosed but can have serious impacts on completing simple activities and result in permanent disability.

Life after Brain Injury

Unfortunately, there are not always physical indications of severe handicap with brain injuries which makes it difficult for friends, family, and community members to understand the recovery process. A brain injury can prevent a person from engaging in daily activities including basic routines, scheduling, grocery shopping, communicating, work, or hobbies. Physical effects of a brain injury can include changes in consciousness, severe headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, muscular impairment, or difficulty swallowing. Sensory impacts often include visual, hearing, and vestibular impairments including light and sound sensitivity or decrease in vision or hearing acuity. Neurobehavioral changes can include changes in personality, emotions, impulsivity, and difficulty sleeping. Cognitive changes can include impaired memory, perception, attention, writing, and any area of producing and understanding language. When a person experiences an mTBI or TBI, they are likely to have decreased quality of life and have difficulty completing tasks that once were commonplace.

Recovery expectation varies depending on the severity of the injury and symptoms a person experiences. Often when a person has a brain injury, they will engage in rehabilitation through a variety of therapies including physical, occupational, and speech-language therapies. These therapists work with the patient and their families to provide individualized treatment based on the patient’s need. Therapists can assist patients in regaining the ability to speak, understand information, schedule, balance, walk, and move.

Brain injuries and Speech-Language Pathology

Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are trained in areas of cognition, language, swallowing, and speech and can be an important resource for someone after they have a brain injury. Persons who experience swallowing difficulties after a brain injury may see an SLP to assist in maintaining a protected airway during meals. Speech-language pathologists provide cognitive communicative treatment for patients with brain injuries who may have difficulty with planning, speaking, emotions, communication, memory, and many other symptoms. SLPs work closely with physicians, physical and occupational therapists, mental health care providers, the patient, and family members to provide best possible care. Cognitive rehabilitation can include the use of compensatory strategies to help people with brain injuries return to a higher quality of life and allow them to engage in all the activities, small and large, that make our lives enjoyable. Fortunately, with a cohesive rehabilitation team, patients with brain injuries can learn ways to engage in activities, conversation, and life during recovery.

Prevention and Resources

Prevention of accidents that lead to brain injuries can impact parents, children, and all adults. All active adults and kids can protect their brain by choosing protective helmets when on ATVs, motorcycles, bicycles, skis/snowboards, or climbing. Injuries sustained during these activities can result in death or disability. When traveling in a vehicle, ensure that your children are adequately secured in seat belts or car seats. If you have questions about car seat installation, contact Ravalli County Public Health, or the national organization, Safe Kids. When having a social drink after work, consider if you can walk, contact a sober driver, or drink at home. After alcohol intake, the chance of injury increases and recovery from a head injury sustained with alcohol in the system is more difficult. In general, clear walkways in your home or place of work and use caution when walking on snowy, icy, and wet surfaces as the highest number of head injuries occur because of falls. Enjoy our wonderful state and protect yourself, your children, and family from a head injury.

If you think you or someone you know has experienced a head injury, immediately contact a healthcare professional to treat and mitigate the effects of these complex and devastating injuries.

There are many resources available for head injuries and prevention online and in our community including Montana’s Brain Injury Alliance, the Center for Disease Control’s Head’s Up program, and many others.

Trudi Fisher, M.S., CCC-SLP, is a certified speech-language pathologist who provides care for patients with brain injuries, impaired cognitive function, impaired swallowing function, voice disorders, aphasia, expressive and receptive language disorders, and speech sound disorders. She enjoys recreating in the Montana wilderness with her family and friends.

This week’s community health column is brought to you by Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital. For questions and or comments, please contact Trudi Fisher, M.S., CCC-SLP at the Marcus Daly Rehabilitation Department at 1200 Westwood Drive, Hamilton MT, 59840 or call 406-375-4570. Working together to build a healthier community!

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