- The brain is an amazing organ; it
makes our heart beat, our eyes blink and our skin shiver; it enables
us to think, laugh, and love. The brain is what observes and
understands the world around us. It has the consistency of Jello or
congealed oatmeal, and weighs about 2 lbs. at birth and 3 lbs. in an
- Brain injury can be called by different names, like
concussion, shaken baby syndrome, and head injuries to name a few.
The brain can be hurt in many different ways; injuries to the brain
are classified as non-traumatic or traumatic. Non-Traumatic injuries
occur as a result of strokes, lack of oxygen, infection, brain
tumors, and exposure to toxic substances. Traumatic injuries fall
into two categories:
- Open head
injuries are those
- in which the skull is
- or seriously fractured.
- Open head injuries also
- when the skull is
- as in a gunshot wound.
head injuries, in which
- the skull is not damaged, occur
- much more often, usually
- because of a car accident or fall.
- Several things happen to the brain during traumatic
injuries. The effects of some of these can go on for quite some
time after the actual accident.
brain bounces around in the skull and rubs against the bony
ridges on the
inside of the skull; this is known as a coup/contra-coup
injury. It can cause
bleeding and swelling within the brain; because the brain
sits in a tightly
enclosed space, there is no way to accommodate the increased
► The microscopic pathways that
send messages through the brain and out to
the body are damaged;
this is known as diffuse axonal
► The chemicals that help the
brain work are disturbed, and instead of helping,
begin to hurt the brain; this is known as the neurochemical
The brain is divided into different parts called
lobes and hemispheres.
While the whole brain works together to get things done, its
different parts are responsible for different jobs.
The Cerebellum (just above the brain stem)
controls balance and coordination.
The Brain Stem (the bottom of the brain)
is responsible for basic life functions like heart beat,
breathing, and blood pressure.
The Occipital lobe
(at the back of the head) controls vision.
The Temporal lobes
(on the sides of the head) manage speech, language, memory, and
The Parietal lobes
(on the top of the head) interpret sensations and the position
of our body and other
The Frontal lobe (at
the front of the head) helps us control our emotions and
impulses, motivates us, and
helps us plan and make good decisions.
- The left and right sides of the brain are called
- hemispheres; they have different strengths.
- The left side of the brain is
- associated with verbal, logical, and
- analytical thinking. It is very good at
- naming and categorizing things,
- reading, writing, arithmetic. It likes
- to think about things logically and in
- order. It controls the right side of
- the body.
- The right side of the brain is the
- creative and curious side of the
- brain, and allows us to be flexible
- and think about the future. It is
- good at visual and intuitive
- information; it thinks quickly and
- looks at the whole picture. It
- controls the left side of the body.
Common physical changes after brain injury include
difficulty walking, trouble with balance,
falling or bumping into things, dizziness, spasticity (very
tight muscles), poor coordination, difficulty grasping objects,
headaches, nausea, fatigue, and seizures.
Common sensory changes after brain injury include
vision, hearing, smell and taste disturbances.
- Common cognitive problems after brain injury include
- memory, concentration and attention, following directions,
- right word, problem solving, abstract thinking,
- social judgment, decision making, self monitoring, and
- Common behavioral/emotional changes after brain injury
- mood swings, acting without thinking, difficulty accepting
- point of view, sadness, low energy, low self-esteem,
hostility, depression, and anxiety.
- Although the physical, sensory, cognitive and
psychological changes may
- improve with treatment and time, they may not go away
completely. The key for
- most survivors and caregivers is learning how to recognize
the difficulties that have been caused by their brain injury and
how to manage them. The best way to do that is through the
use of compensatory strategies, which involves using different
ways to accomplish a task
- that is more difficult since the injury.
- Compensatory strategies focus on a person’s intact
skills and strengths to help them be successful with overcoming
challenges in the areas of self-care, attention, memory,
behavior. We all use some of these methods. These strategies can
be simple, like writing things down in notebooks, posting notes
on the refrigerator, or carrying a pocket calendar; some can be
more complex, like Palm-Pilots, medication alarms, or emergency
- response systems. Compensatory strategies do not fix the
underlying problem; it takes more time, energy, and attention to
make them work, but when used consistently, they can
dramatically improve function.
- Recovery from brain injury can last a lifetime, even
though formal rehabilitation ends. When that happens, the
survivor and those who care about him or her need to find ways
to manage the day to day challenges and continue the recovery
process. Good rehabilitation lays a foundation for managing
opportunities and challenges, and
- life in general.
- In one study1,
those individuals who continue to recover are people who:
- 1. Focus on using their family and
support systems to help them get better, instead of focusing on
- 2. Develop skills that help them
belong to a group; they are able to deal with the challenges of
- living and
working with others. They realize that they need to depend on
others sometimes, and don’t live
- isolated lives.
- 3. Continually work to improve
their self-awareness. They understand their brain injury, their
challenges; they work hard to understand how these things are
related, and when and how to make
- 4. Reduce the tendency to blame
other people or situations. They understand and accept
- 5. Develop and maintain anchoring
relationships. People who do well after brain injury usually
- person they
trust and can go to when things get tough. They know this person
will tell it like it is, but
- 6. Develop and maintain
collaborative relationships. The successful person is one who
is needed and doesn’t resist help or ask for it when it isn’t
- 7. Learn how to advocate for their
needs and desires. These individuals seek out and take advantage
- of positive
opportunities that will help them get better.
- 8. Develop an identity that is
outside of the brain injury. They see themselves as more than a
- he or she
becomes someone who is recognized for features that are
different from their brain
- For more information on brain injury or the
resources around the state that can help in the recovery
process, contact the Brain Injury Association of
1 Patrick, P, Hebda, D., and Shuffleton,
M. (1995). Recovery Beyond Rehabilitation. Re-Learning Times, 2 (2).
©2002 Brain Injury Association of Virginia
Brain Injury Association of Virginia, Inc.
1506 Willow Lawn Drive, Suite 212
Richmond, VA 23230
Phone: (804) 355-5748 / Toll-Free: (800) 444-6443
Fax: (804) 355-6381
Creating a better future through brain injury
education, advocacy, and support