TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURIES: A DEVASTATING INVISIBLE INJURY

When a person has an accident and is injured, the most obvious types of injuries are those that can be seen. Injuries like broken bones, lacerations and resulting scars are easily visible to the naked eye but there are many injuries which cannot be seen. Injuries such as neck and back injuries and traumatic brain injuries, while invisible to the naked eye, can often be far more devastating than those that can be seen.

Society is finally starting to pay attention to traumatic brain injuries like concussions. Professional sports leagues, like the National Football League, are conducting studies and some very high profile athletes have had long-term injuries caused by concussions. Last year, a baseball player named Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins, a former Most Valuable Player, did not play in a single game following the All Star break after suffering a concussion. His status going into the Spring, 2011 season remains uncertain.

Traditional media is also starting to pay more attention to brain injuries. For example, USA Today published a detailed article concerning a health insurance gap encountered by many, if not most, brain injury victims (“For brain injuries, a treatment gap”, USA Today, 3/2/11).

Traumatic brain injuries are a serious disease that affects millions of people each year. The Center for Disease Control reported 1.5 million people diagnosed with traumatic brain injury in 2001. A traumatic brain injury, like a concussion, occurs when there is a trauma to the brain. For example, when a person slips and falls or has a car accident and strikes their head, their brain will shift within their skull and come into contact with the interior of their skull. The human skull is not smooth on the inside but rather has ridges. When the brain comes into contact with these ridges, injury can occur. It is in these situations when a person may suffer a concussion.

A concussion can occur in a person with or without a loss of consciousness. Acute signs and symptoms of a concussion are: fatigue, nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, confusion and seizures. Long-term symptoms include confusion, memory loss, change in personality, poor attention, changing of sleep patterns, becoming upset easily or a short temper, depression and feeling lethargic.

When you are in an accident and suffer a blow to the head you should be aware that you may have suffered a concussion. If you have any of the above referenced symptoms, you should immediately tell your treating doctor and request to see a neurologist, particularly if symptoms are persisting. Because a traumatic brain injury is not always readily apparent, symptoms are often minimized by a patient and they do not even realize they are suffering this injury.  Often symptoms like confusion and a memory loss are ignored by a patient until, months later, they are having difficulty when they return to their job and find that they are not able to perform all of the activities they were once able to do easily. As an attorney who has litigated these types of cases, it is often difficult to causally connect these symptoms back to the original accident if the symptoms of the brain injury are not documented in medical records at the time of the accident.

The long-term effects of a brain injury can often be far worse than those of the obvious injuries suffered in an accident. A broken bone will often heal and the injured person is able to return to their regular daily activities. However, when a person is suffering the long-term effect of a concussion that causes them difficulty in their concentration and memory, these effects can cause undue stress and difficulty with their relationships and their careers for years after their accident. For this reason it is very important when you suspect that you have suffered a concussion in an accident that you advise your doctor of all your symptoms, particularly if you are suffering headache or nausea.

Often, a patient who is diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury will be referred to a neuropsychologist. A neuropsychologist has training in evaluating the effects of a brain injury. They will conduct extensive testing which can be performed over several weeks to assess the impact a brain injury has had on an individual. A good neuropsychologist can assist a patient in understanding their limitations caused by their brain injury so they will know how to deal with them in their everyday life. For example, if a patient suffers short-term memory loss, they may sometimes “blank out” for a moment while driving and not know where they were going. If a person is aware that this could happen, they can make sure to have a GPS with them at all times while driving so if they do suffer this, they can look at the GPS and not suffer distress while driving.

A traumatic brain injury can be a very difficult injury to live with. Often, its effects go unnoticed until a patient’s life is later disrupted. What’s more, our society has tended to minimize injuries like concussions. Thankfully, this attitude is beginning to change and traumatic brain injuries are becoming recognized as the severe injury that it is and new treatments are being developed to assist patients in overcoming them. People should be aware that they can easily suffer a traumatic brain injury when they have an accident, like a motor vehicle accident or a slip and fall. They should report all symptoms they are feeling to the emergency room doctors and their medical professionals to make sure they get the treatment they will need to assist them in overcoming this sometimes difficult and long-term injury. They should also consult an attorney who has the knowledge and experience handling traumatic brain injury cases to make sure they receive proper compensation for this complex and often devastating injury.