Monday, May 7, 2012

This is your brain.....

Motorcycle accidents. Football. Military Combat. Falls or accidents at work. Boxing. What do these three things have in common?

They are all ways that the human body and brain take a beating. 

But what you may not know, aside from the physical toll that these injuries can take, the stakes are even higher. The facts is that brain injuries can lead to serious mental illness, including depression, memory deficits, anxiety, personality changes, aggression, impulsivity, increased substance abuse, acting out, and even suicide. In addition, undiagnosed brain injuries may account for some learning disorders and other cognitive deficits. Some psychological problems have a physical basis or can be worsened by such an injury

The recent suicide of Junior Seau, NFL superstar, has brought this issue into the spotlight once again.  Let's talk about some facts regarding brain injuries, and how this increasingly alarming issue is being addressed by the NFL, the Military and high schools around the country. .

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), brain injury is defined as a disruption in the functioning of the brain. This disruption can be long-term or temporary, and can have effects that last anywhere from a few hours, to a lifetime of permanent impairment. The brain injury occurs when there is an injury, called an "insult" that is severe enough to impact the brain. This injury, sometimes referred to as a "Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)" differs from other types of brain injuries, such as stroke, tumors, infection, substance abuse, hypoxia or other illnesses.

Diagnosis of brain injuries can vary from a simple physical exam, to an MRI or other neurological testing and assessment. The most important thing to remember is, that while most falls and bumps on the head do not lead to a traumatic brain injury, early detection and treatment is a key to full recovery. When in doubt, get checked out!

Many psychologists are now being trained to assess injuries in sports and to make return to play recommendations. A trained health care professional is the most qualified person to conduct this evaluation, whether is be a physician trained in assessment of neurocognitive functioning, or a licensed psychologist.

Treatment for brain injuries, sometimes referred to as "Cognitive remediation" can range from simple reading and memory exercises to help the brain recover, to intensive cognitive therapy, and strategies to help memory and with daily activities, such as using a daily planner, making lists, using timers and visual cues, and using the computer to help keep track.

Recovery from a brain injury, traumatic or otherwise, is unique to each individual. This is based on a multitude of factors, such as location and severity of the injury, and the course of treatment and support are critical in the recovery and rehabilitation process. In many cases, especially in the case of violent crime, accidents and military trauma, the brain injury often overlaps with Post traumatic stress disorder, which can further worsen symptoms. This can also complicate the diagnostic and treatment course for both disorders.

Here is a small sampling of efforts to address brain injuries in various areas...

*Players are fined for head-to-head hits
*The NFL has committed to spending up to 100 million over the next 10 years in research into the long term impact of brain injuries
*Chronic traumatic encephalopathy has been found in players in post mortem studies of the brain.
*Helmet safety is being examined
*Review of the three-point stance

*The Brain Injury Association of Pennsylvania (BIAPA) has formed the BrainSTEPS program to ensure that children returning to school following a brain injury have the support and training they need
(the BrainSTEPS fact sheet can be found  here
*PA has introduced legislation which would require a player who has sustained a concussion or brain injury to not return to play unless cleared by a licensed health-care provider
*Trained licensed health care professionals, including psychologists, can make return-to-play decisions

*The military has stepped up efforts to detect and treat head injuries before soldiers return to combat
*Soldiers are screened to develop a baseline to compare against at points along their career to help detect brain injuries

If you have suffered a brain injury and are struggling, go to  your local doctor or emergency room. To help a loved one cope following an injury, ASK A PSYCHOLOGIST!


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