Every year in the U.S., traumatic brain injuries are responsible for thousands of cases of permanent disability. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be quite deceptive. Someone may not even realize at first that he or she has suffered a brain injury, so it’s always smart to be extra-cautious and seek medical attention at once after any blow to the head. A brain injury can occur even without direct impact if the head is shaken violently in a collision, causing the brain to collide with the skull. Brain injury symptoms may include dizziness, memory loss, blackouts, disorientation, sleep disorders, and seizures that affect emotional as well as physical health.
TBI may be caused by a jolt or a blow to the head that impairs normal brain function. The severity of a traumatic brain injury may range from “mild” – such as most concussions – to “severe” brain injuries that require surgeries, extensive treatment, and lengthy rehabilitation. Doctors categorize a concussion as a “mild” injury because concussions are seldom life-threatening, but the effects may still be quite serious. Among all age groups, traffic accidents are a leading cause of TBI and are the top cause of TBI in the 15-to-44 age group.
HOW IS FULL RECOVERY FROM A BRAIN INJURY DEFINED?
Every year in the U.S., about 2.4 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury. For most families, the cost of long-term treatment and care for a traumatic brain injury is overwhelming. Outpatient therapy for a traumatic brain injury can cost from $600 to $1,000 a day, and hospital-based brain injury rehabilitation runs about $8,000 a day, but the total cost of TBI to the nation, including lost productivity, is about $75 billion a year. A number of problems can develop after a traumatic brain injury. Because of the human brain’s unique nature, full recovery from TBI means both physical recuperation and emotional healing.
Physical recovery simply means getting the body and its parts healthy again. Physical recovery is the predominant focus of most TBI rehabilitation programs, especially hospital-based brain injury programs. Emotional recovery simply means feeling good about one’s self and one’s life, without fear or irrational anxiety. More serious physical problems usually mean more serious emotional problems. Every brain injury and every patient is different, but for most TBI victims, physical recovery is typically faster than emotional recovery.
Recovering physically and emotionally from a traumatic brain injury is seldom smooth, easy, or predictable. Some patients seem to stop getting better for a time – they “plateau” – and then they resume making progress. Other patients seem to take one step back for every two steps forward. New problems and stresses that arise can also affect a TBI patient’s emotional recovery. The financial difficulties that come with a traumatic brain injury – weeks or even months lost from work, combined with mounting medical expenses – almost inevitably add to and exacerbate a TBI patient’s emotional distress.
DO TBI VICTIMS HAVE LEGAL RECOURSE?
In Texas, if a traumatic brain injury is sustained in a traffic collision, a slip-and-fall incident, a swimming pool accident, or any other accident caused by another person’s negligence, Texas law entitles the injury victim to full compensation for all medical treatment – past, present, and future – as well as complete reimbursement for lost wages and all other injury-related losses. An experienced Houston personal injury attorney can provide TBI victims and their families with more details about their legal rights and options after a traumatic brain injury.
Without immediate medical treatment, a traumatic brain injury can very quickly become a catastrophic and disabling injury. And even if someone sustains only a mild concussion and is immediately and properly treated, the physical injury to the brain can remain visible on a brain scan even months later. “Mild” concussions, once considered almost insignificant, are in fact far more dangerous and long-lasting than doctors once thought.
The physical side of TBI can be documented with tests and scans, but the emotional damage that accompanies TBI is much more difficult to quantify and treat. Physically, our brains and bodies aren’t that different, but everyone’s emotional makeup is unique. Anyone struggling with a traumatic brain injury is probably also struggling with several kinds of emotional issues. Some TBI patients may experience brief and intense emotions – with little long-term effect. They may anger easily but get over it quickly. Or they may be happy one moment, sad the next moment, and then angry – in rapid succession. This is called emotional “lability.”
WHAT CAUSES EMOTIONAL LABILITY?
Mood swings and emotional lability are usually the result of damage to the part of the brain that controls the emotions. There may be no specific incident that triggers a sudden emotional episode – sudden obsessive laughing or crying, for example. This can be confusing to family members or other caretakers who may think they said or did something to trigger the incident. A patient’s emotions may seem inappropriate – laughing at a sad situation, for example, or crying for no apparent reason. Usually, however, a TBI victim is unable to control these irrational or inappropriate expressions of emotion.
Anxiety – fear or nervousness that is out of proportion to the situation – is one of the most common experiences of TBI patients, and they often feel anxious without knowing precisely why. They may be anxious about making too many “mistakes” or feeling criticized. The financial concerns associated with TBI almost always generate anxiety. A TBI patient’s anxiety can also be easily triggered by crowds, by being late or in a hurry, or by having to adjust to unanticipated changes.
A full emotional recovery is likely for most patients who’ve suffered a mild or moderate traumatic brain injury, although emotional recovery tends to lag behind physical recovery. Counseling is almost always recommended, and there are several medications that may help to improve or stabilize moods and emotions. Family members and caretakers can work to reduce any environmental demands and unnecessary stress that may be causing anxiety.
Most brain injury patients understand their physical problems and know what they need to do to get better physically, but many have difficulty discussing their feelings. Financial fears and anxieties can be almost overwhelming for TBI sufferers when there’s no income and the medical bills are mounting. If another person’s negligence is the cause of a traumatic brain injury, a good personal injury lawyer can help.
In the Houston area, for example, an experienced Houston personal injury attorney can handle the legal side of a brain injury case and – at least – help to relieve the financial anxiety. Caretakers and family members who are concerned about a TBI patient’s emotional recovery should also ask healthcare providers about counseling resources and medications that may be able to help.