Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) includes many different types of head injuries which can have lasting and devastating effects on a person’s health.
March is TBI Awareness month which aims to spotlight these brain injuries and inform people how to seek treatment.
“A concussion is more than just a concussion. It is a traumatic brain injury. A concussion can have lasting impacts on our thinking abilities, physical capabilities, and mental health,” said Intermountain Healthcare's Dr. Anne Russo. “Recovery can be a long process, but we have the tools to help patients get there.”
According to the CDC there were more than 223,000 TBI related hospitalizations in the U.S. in 2018 which didn’t include people treated at an emergency room, doctors office, or urgent care. In 2019, there were more than 60,000 TBI related deaths.
TBIs are measured on a scale of mild, moderate, or severe. Often, concussions are classified as mild. More severe injuries may include a cracked skull or large brain bleed. These injuries may be caused by sudden jolts, blows to the head, or objects going through the brain. Safety equipment, such as helmets can help decrease the risk of concussion.
Dr. Russo says if people lose consciousness or start vomiting, they should go to an emergency room immediately. If someone has something milder - like a concussion, Dr. Russo suggests the following treatment:
- Get plenty of rest
- Reduce screen time
- Be physically active but avoid contact risk and go at a pace that doesn’t exacerbate symptoms.
TBI injuries can also be compounded. For example, if a person experiences a second concussion prior to the first concussion healing, the effects can be worse, placing a person at increased risk of permanent deficits or even death.
That’s what happened to Lauren Ziaks in 2018 when she suffered her ninth concussion while snowboarding. While the injury was mild compared to ones in her past that’s when she said everything changed.
“I couldn’t recover from the concussion and I had trouble with balancing, memory loss, and everyday functions said Ziaks. “It’s scary when you hit a point where you don’t bounce back and suddenly your brain isn’t working right.”
After several visits with doctors who couldn’t figure out exactly what was wrong, an occupational therapist eventually discovered she had issues with her eyes working together along with the nerves in her inner ear.
Through different treatments, such as occupational therapy vision treatments, Ziaks began to get better and helped streamline new treatment protocols in the process. She now works as a physical therapist at Intermountain Park City Hospital and specializes in concussion treatments.
“I know what it’s like to be there, so I get a lot of joy in helping patients recover and get back to their normal lives,” said Ziaks. “We are pioneering so many new techniques and learning a lot about TBI in the process.”
Through research, experts have found how our everyday habits can impact a TBI. Stressful work, requiring intense focus can be especially difficult for someone with a brain injury. In some cases, Dr. Russo says people need to take more breaks and give themselves extra time to finish projects.
A lot of screen time has also shown to exacerbate the problems of a TBI. That is why doctors recommend less time on phones and computers as well as more quality sleep when recovering from a head injury. Dr. Russo says people need to realize like any major injury, it takes time to heal.
“No one would cut a cast off a broken leg and expect to walk after a week, so people need to realize a TBI doesn’t just go away after a couple of days,” said Dr. Russo.
For more information about TBIs and resources to help click here.