Tag Archives: brain

What Brain Injury Survivors Want You To Know

Today’s blog is compiled by The ‘Amazing’ Brain Injury Survivor Support Group of Framingham, Mass., one of 34 BIA-MA support groups around the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It was then published in Lost and Found, A Survivor’s Guide for Reconstructing Life after Brain Injury, by Barbara Webster, BIA-MA’s Support Group Leader Liaison. If you want more information about joining a support group, click here. 

What do  brain injury survivors really want you to know?

I need a lot more rest than I used to. I’m not being lazy. I get physical fatigue as well as a “brain fatigue.” It is very difficult and tiring for my brain to think, process and organize. Fatigue makes it even harder to think.

My stamina fluctuates, even though I may look good or “all better” on the outside. Cognition is a fragile function for a brain injury survivor. Some days are better than others. Pushing too hard usually leads to setbacks, sometimes to illness.

Brain injury rehabilitation takes a very long time; it is usually measured in years. It continues long after formal rehabilitation has ended. Please resist expecting me to be who I was, even though I look better.

I am not being difficult if I resist social situations. Crowds, confusion and loud sounds quickly overload my brain, it doesn’t filter sounds as well as it used to. Limiting my exposure is a coping strategy, not a behavioral problem. If there is more than one person talking, I may seem uninterested in the conversation – but that is because I have trouble following all the different “lines” of discussion and it is exhausting to keep trying to piece it all together. I’m not dumb or rude; my brain is getting overloaded!

If we are talking and I tell you that I need to stop, I need to stop NOW! and it is not because I’m avoiding the subject, it’s just that I need time to process our discussion and “take a break” from all the thinking. Later I will be able to rejoin the conversation and really be present for the subject and for you.

Try to notice the circumstances if a behavior problem arises. “Behavior problems” are often an indication of my inability to cope with a specific situation and not a mental health issue. I may be frustrated, in pain, overtired or there may be too much confusion or noise for my brain to filter.

Patience is the best gift you can give me, allowing me to work deliberately and at my own pace, allowing me to rebuild pathways in my brain. Rushing and multi-tasking inhibit cognition.

Please listen to me with patience as well, trying not to interrupt, allowing me to find my words and follow my thoughts. It will help me rebuild my language skills.

Please have patience with my memory and know that not remembering does not mean that I don’t care.

Please don’t be condescending or talk to me like I am a child. I’m not stupid, my brain is injured and it doesn’t work as well as it used to. Try to think of me as if my brain were in a cast.

If I seem “rigid,” needing to do tasks the same way all the time, it is because I am retraining my brain. It’s like learning main roads before you can learn the shortcuts. Repeating tasks in the same sequence is a rehabilitation strategy.

If I seem “stuck,” my brain may be stuck in the processing of information. Coaching me, suggesting other options or asking what you can do to help may help me figure it out. Taking over and doing it for me will not be constructive and it will make me feel inadequate. ( It may also be an indication that I need to take a break.)

You may not be able to help me do something if helping requires me to frequently interrupt what I am doing to give you directives. I work best on my own, one step at a time and at my own pace.

If I repeat actions, like checking to see if the doors are locked or the stove is turned off, it may seem like I have OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I may not. It may be that I am having trouble registering what I am doing in my brain. Repetitions enhance memory. (It can also be a cue that I need to stop and rest.)

If I seem sensitive, it could be emotional issue as a result of the injury or it may be a reflection of the extraordinary effort it takes to do things now. Tasks that used to feel “automatic” and take minimal effort, now take much longer, require the implementation of numerous strategies and are huge accomplishments for me.

We need cheerleaders now, as we start over, just like children do when they are growing up. Please help me and encourage all efforts. Please don’t be negative or critical. I am doing the best I can.

Don’t confuse Hope for Denial. We are learning more and more about the amazing brain and there are remarkable stories about healing in the news every day. No one can know for certain what our potential is. We need Hope to be able to employ the many, many coping mechanisms, accommodations and strategies needed to navigate our new lives. Every single thing in our lives is extraordinarily difficult for us now. It would be easy to give up without Hope.

Think A-Head Redesigned and Revamped, Coming to a School Near You

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Students get ready for prom. Do they know the dangers of drinking or drugging and driving?

Did you know that the brain contains 100,000 miles worth of blood vessels–enough to circle the earth four times?  The brain contains 100 billion neurons, which are cells, known as gray matter, that process all of the information in your brain. Each neuron is connected to other neurons by up to 40,000 synapses. This means that the number of connections in the brain outnumbers the number of stars in the universe.

Did you know that the brain is made up of 75% water, and uses 20% of the oxygen in your body at any given time?

What a powerful organ…one worthy of protecting, since it houses so much information and capability.  However, brain injuries are the leading cause of death and disability in young adults and teenagers. The recorded instance of concussion, car crashes and substance use by this group is increasing. So, what can be done to enlighten students and give them knowledge, allowing them to make better choices for their own safety?

The Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts has a solution. Think A-Head is a dynamic, school-based program that has been teaching students to avoid risk-taking behavior and develop healthy living habits for nearly 20 years. This curriculum is tailored to the age of the students and to the specific needs of the school and its community. The program offers a core curriculum with amendable activities based around the following issues:

  • Brain Injury: General knowledge of the brain, brain injury, high-risk groups and behaviors
  • Drugs and alcohol: Breaking down drugs to include depressants, stimulants, inhalants and prescription pills and the affect on the teenage body and brain
  • Impaired driving: How alcohol affects driving, the dangers of impaired driving and the increased risk of sustaining a traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Seatbelts: The benefits of using them and the detriments of not using them; statistics on usage and common misconceptions about seatbelts
  • Concussions: Focusing on sports concussions, signs and symptoms, and information on what to do in the case of a suspected concussion; the roles of coaches, student athletes, teachers and school systems in this process

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You may have experienced this program in your school before. However, BIA-MA has completely revamped the program to be a more effective educational and preventative tool. Your students will experience new presentations with interactive question-and-answer sessions to make sure they are really consuming the information. In addition, a brain injury survivor speaker will be on hand to discuss their experiences with brain injury and to also pose situational questions to the students. When reality is standing before them, how do they respond?

Thanks to a generous gift from the Sarah W. Rollins Charitable Trust, BIA-MA is able to offer this redesigned Think A-Head program at a discounted fee of $75 for the first program and $25 for each additional program held at your school on the same day. Think A-Head aims to inform and engage students and supply them with applicable knowledge so that they can make more informed choices during a most impressionable time in their lives.

Science has proven that neurons continue to develop throughout an individual’s life, at least in some parts of the brain. In addition, fresh cells are actively involved in the formation of memory. This organ should be protected, as it serves as the “engine room” or “control room” for all of your body’s faculties. An individual’s choices affect the brain on a regular basis.

To bring the Think A-Head program to your school in Massachusetts, visit the webpage today to book a program (or more!) and learn more about how educating students about the risks and impact of brain injury helps them make better choices. To book your program immediately, click here.

What is it with balance and vestibular issues post-brain injury?

elderly african american lady with canePortions of this blog were written with information from the Brain Injury Association of America’s document on vestibular and balance issues, with input from David Krych, MS, CCC-SLP and Ann Pereira-Ogan.

Following a brain injury of any kind, one might experience issues with balance–keeping yourself upright and walking in a straight line without tipping or drifting. Did you know that almost 40 percent of individuals with a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury (TBI) complain about balance issues? You might expect dizziness following a brain injury. These issues are referred to as “vestibular disorders.” Another vestibular disorder is vertigo, or a feeling of spinning. These disorders are commonly misdiagnosed and diagnosis following a brain injury can be challenging.

Brain injury can cause inner ear damage that can develop into vestibular dysfunction, but these issues might not show immediately following a brain injury. In fact, the symptoms of vestibular disorders can appear in days, weeks and months following an injury, which is why they are so difficult to diagnose. A neurologist or ear, nose and throat doctor can evaluate an individual for several symptoms including:

  • Visual symptoms such as trouble focusing, blurred or double vision, reacting to busy environments, sensitivity to light, discomfort when focusing on far away objects, decreased night vision and depth perception.
  • Auditory symptoms such as hearing distortion or loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), sensitivity to loud noises and environments and imbalance or dizziness caused by loud noises.
  • Cognitive or psychological symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, short-term memory loss, confusion, disorientation, difficulty following directions, anxiety, panic or depression.
  • Other symptoms like nausea, motion sickness, ear pain or headache, sensation of fullness/fluid in the ears, slurred speech, vertigo or spinning or the inability to complete activities at work and home.

If you go to a neurologist or ear, nose and throat specialist, you want to make sure the specialist evaluates you on the following things:

  1. Your patient history
  2. Vestibulo-Occular function
  3. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
  4. Motion Sensitivity
  5. Balance
  6. Visual System
  7. Motor/sensory systems
  8. Vascular
  9. Headache
  10. Cognitive
  11. Mood Stability
  12. Current activities in home, work or school
  13. Pain issues

Your specialist will make sure you are at a lower risk of falling, as that is the leading cause of TBI. Then he or she might consider adapting your lifestyle, substituting activities in your lifestyle, and having you habituate yourself to some new things. Everyone suffers differently from vestibular issues, but there are many common adaptations that specialists recommend such as relaxation techniques like yoga or tai chi, gaze stabilization exercises, periods of rest, environmental changes and schedule adaptations. Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT) is an exercise-based program designed to promote central nervous system compensation for inner ear issues. It can help with BPPV and reduced inner ear function. The goal of VRT is to retrain the brain to recognize and process signals from the vestibular organs in conjunction with vision and input from the muscles and joints. Sometimes symptoms of vestibular disorders get worse before they get better with the different therapies and adaptations, but it’s a process in which your body is reconnecting and retraining the parts of the brain that aren’t getting adequate signals from the vestibular systems as it did before.

You need a doctor’s evaluation if you feel any of the above symptoms or have continuing issues. We like to tell you to call our office if you are living in Massachusetts and need a list of providers in your geographic area. Our number is 800-242-0030 and you can speak with an information and resource specialist about this and many other issues. Never try to self-diagnose. Always seek the service of a medical practitioner.

Stroke Signs & Prevention Tips

Did you know a stroke, also known as a brain attack, is a type of brain injury? A stroke occurs when a clot blocks the blood supply to a part of the brain or when a blood vessel in or around the brain bursts. Stroke is an acquired brain injury, which is any type of brain damage occurring after birth that is not hereditary, congenital, degenerative, or the result of an external impact.

According to the Center for Disease Control, stroke kills nearly 130,000 Americans each year – 1 in every 18 deaths. Every year, more than 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke. So what are the signs of stroke?

1. Sudden numbness or weakness in the arm, leg or face

2. Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or difficulty understanding others

3. Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes

4. Sudden dizziness, difficulty walking or loss of balance or coordination

5. Sudden severe headache with no cause

Studies estimate that 80 percent of strokes can be prevented. High blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, smoking, alcohol use (drink in moderation), high cholesterol  diabetes and Transient Ischemic Attack are some of the health issues which can raise your risk for stroke.

Eat a healthy diet, exercise, get a yearly check-up, drink alcohol in moderation or avoid it altogether, stop smoking and stay on top of any health issues you may have such as diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Talk to your doctor about your risk of stroke at your next annual check-up and fill out the National Stroke Association’s stroke card to check your risk today.