Brain injuries are tricky little devils. Most of the time they hide so well that no one is able to see them no less note that anything is wrong. Sometimes they show up after the most unlikely events  like surgery or treatment for a disease, or as part of the progression of a disease not necessarily localized in the brain.  They are not just the result of a traumatic physical incident or an accident or a fall or a stroke. Brain injuries and all the stuff that goes along with them sometimes simply pop up without warning.

Medical professionals give them names that sound so harmless, like post-concussive syndrome or chemo brain or brain fog, that they don't even feel worthy of a deeper look. But they are.

Here is the big question: How do you help someone with something you can't see? Even the well intended will miss the signs if they are not looking for them and, to be fair, how would they know to look?

The biggest indicator is change in behavior, attitude, level of involvement in life, personality, and routine. If you see a change, take a deeper look.

If you believe you are living with someone who has had some kind of brain change, here are some tips:

  • Listen, watch closely, and adapt to changes as they happen.
  • Drop assumptions and preconceived notions about how that person “should be”.
  • Slow down and think through your questions, especially when you get unexpected answers.  Perspective, among so many other things, changes so it may take a while to find the right question.
  • Find those things that are difficult and create ways to practice those skills in a safe place.   Games – board games, word games, car games, online games, apps – are ideal.
  • Think about how frustrating the changes are for you and now imagine having those same frustrations with no way to control your emotions or think your way out of them….
  • Find the experts as you need and support groups when you need.
  • Know that, if this is a brain injury, that person will change, not just during recovery but also might be different in the end. Make the most of that new person and celebrate what you can.

Let's take a look at some real examples.

SYMPTOM: Sensory problems, such as blurred vision, ringing in the ears or a bad taste in the mouth
• “What is that smell?” when there is nothing unusual.
• Favorite foods don’t taste good or are no quite right. You might hear “Did you try a different recipe?”.
• Children might have “crawly” feeling (skin sensations) or hear mosquitoes or bees.
• Limbs “fall asleep” more than usual and for not identifiable reason.
• Repeatedly cleaning glasses, moving closer to the TV, changing the position (closer and farther away) of reading material.
• Does not turn on the lights or sits in silence.

SYMPTOM: Change in ability to pay attention
• You have to repeat instructions more than usual and maybe things still don’t get done.
• Everything gets started (projects, tasks, chores, thoughts, games, puzzles, books, preparing dinner, laundry, etc.) but nothing is finished when that is normally not the case or at least to a lesser extent.
• Can’t sit still for personal normal periods of time.

SYMPTOM: Mood changes or mood swings
• Unusual emotional outbursts or periods of long silence.
• A lack of patience (resulting in agitation) in situations that would not normally be a source of anxiety as seen in little things like waiting for toast to finish or clothes to finish drying.
• Not interested in favorite things or routine things. In children, this could be things like not interested in favorite toys or activities.
• Does not want to be around people.

The key to all of this is look for change! Keep a list and report all of this to the person or group managing care. They may be breadcrumbs that will help form better treatment but at the very least all of these things are indicators that help build the best plan for recovery.

What other practical, everyday signs and symptoms have you seen?



05/28/2015 8:01am

Ruth, This is incredible. I'd never thought of brain injury as a "silent" disease but sure enough it is. Thank you for bringing awareness to such an important issue.

05/29/2015 5:32am

Yes! When you add that inability to find the words to tell someone that something is wrong TBIs can be crippling if they go unnoticed. Thanks for your comment Sheryl!

11/15/2016 12:52pm

These symptoms are also common to long term drug dependents. It is unfortunate to learn that most of them will never admit their mistakes so they remain untreated. It is so frustrating because even if you empathize with their condition, they will still not seek treatment as most of them are suicidal. It breaks my heart that they just slowly try to kill themselves with drug addiction. They should be functioning individuals.

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05/28/2015 9:37am

Sometimes it's terrifying to think of how many things can go wrong with our bodies. Thanks for the reminder to pay attention and to be here now.

05/29/2015 5:33am

Noticing what is happening right now is so key, you are right!

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05/28/2015 9:42am

A perfect awareness piece. Kudos and thank you! Brain injuries take a while to heal. Patience is key. But with understanding, perseverance, loving support and a good doc, it will all turn out okay.

05/29/2015 5:35am

What a great summary Tammy! Self love applies here too :)!

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05/28/2015 10:56am

Oh how I wish we could have read this before it took 7-months to diagnose my post-concussive-syndrome after a head injury.

05/29/2015 5:36am

Those cute little names infuriate me -- they down play and demean what life feels like in our heads, don't they Doreen? Thanks for sharing that thought!

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We had a perfectly healthy 48 yo friend that we just thought was a bit 'self-absorbed' when he continually repeated the same stories about himself- over & over. This went on for several years. No one thought a thing about it- then- he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers at 56. Then- it all made sense. So sad. I hope those that can get the help they need.

05/29/2015 5:39am

Oh my...that just brings the point home perfectly doesn't it Cheryl? Thank you for this insight. Sometimes I get lost in the fact that many choose not to talk and have completely ignored what happens with those who do! Thank you for that reminder!

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05/28/2015 12:59pm

Oh, this list scares me a bit as I see myself in so many instances. :-( I was just thinking yesterday it's time to get back to being ME, not the me I've changed into being the past nearly 12 months. Pulling out your fantastic book again and adding more amplification where I can. Thank you!

05/29/2015 5:44am

Time for a nice long chat Lisa! I will never be the me I was before my accident and I just had to be OK with that. It just takes a bit of perspective and self-love -- you know, the stuff that comes so easily :)!!

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05/28/2015 1:54pm

Your book is super-inspirational, with so many good bits of information that anyone can use, not just those with TBI. Thanks for this informative article.

05/29/2015 5:46am

My goal is always to share useful bits and in manageable bites! Thank you for your comment!

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05/28/2015 3:01pm

Two of my brothers lost long term relationships after TBIs. Those personality changes are the big ones to overcome to which many just cannot adjust. Helping a partner or having a partner help you is a treasure.

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The whole caregiver issue is huge Nancy. You grow to love a person and then one day someone else takes over their body. It just isn't fair! Ask my husband :)!

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I hope so Lois -- thank you!

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