Myths about Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

  1. You need to be knocked out to have a brain injury.
    FALSE – Studies have revealed that even milder, jarring injuries such as a header in soccer or hitting your head on the car door can result in TBI. Often, there is a dazed feeling that lasts for only a few seconds, but you do not have be knocked out to suffer a TBI. Of course, the more severe the injury, the longer you are unconscious, as a rule.
  2. If you are dazed, or only mildly knocked out, you can return to normal activities immediately.
    FALSE – Multiple studies are revealing the fact that resting the brain is imperative to healing. That includes limiting the stimuli from light, noise and activity. This is why high school athletes who suffer concussions often may not return to school due to the difficulties with studying that can impair brain recovery. Can you imagine continuing in the battlefield? We take players off the football/soccer fields, but leave soldiers in the war theater.
  3. No one should worry about a small concussion.
    FALSE – Every head injury needs to be treated and followed. In fact, studies have proved the #1 predictor for a head injury is a previous head injury. And we know that the effects of repetitive injuries are more than additive. In fact, there is an entire syndrome labeled second impact syndrome, whereby the second concussion, in rapid succession from the first, i.e., within days or weeks, can lead to a much more severe injury and even death.
  4. Everyone who fears or avoids crowds has PTSD.
    FALSE – Avoidance of crowds, loud noises, department stores, supermarkets, etc. is a hallmark of TBI. This result from the injured brain’s inability to filter information and stimuli so that placing yourself in high activity areas results in a stimulus overload for the brain resulting in adrenalin release & even panic attacks which lead to avoidance of these activities.
  5. If I could just calm down with alcohol I would be fine.
    FALSE – but a concept that about 70%- 90% of TBI patients develop. Self-medication, especially with alcohol, but also with marijuana, is a hallmark of TBI – trying to stop the brain overload typifies the injury.
  6. I just have a headache, aspirin or Tylenol will help.
    FALSE – The persistent headache in traumatic brain injury occurs as a warning and is often related to vascular instability in the brain. That is, migraine type headaches are common with traumatic brain injury and should be treated differently than taking aspirin or Tylenol for the symptoms. Aspirin can lead to bleeding difficulties, and Tylenol to liver problems and both can be exacerbated by alcohol, which is the number on self-medicating drug for TBI. Please see your physician for persistent headache symptoms.
  7. I can’t concentrate or remember things like I used to. I must be out of my mind.
    FALSE – You may be out of your brain, but you are NOT out of you mind. This is a strong myth that the symptoms of TBI, including lack of new memory and difficulties remembering are MIND functions, and, in fact, they are BRAIN functions. Recent advances in brain imaging can show us the areas of the brain that are injured or deficient. In the brain, even a small area of injury can affect a significant function, as with a lesion in the speech center, for instance.
  8. My CT scan and MRI were normal, so I must imagining this.
    FALSE – Current standard imaging techniques such as the MRI and CT scan do not show the lesions or damage in the vast majority (greater than 95%) of the traumatic brain injuries. Therefore, the normal scan cannot relate to function nor explain the symptoms. Newer imaging techniques such as diffusion tensor MRI and SPECT and PET scans can better determining the extent of injury in persons with TBI. Neuropsychological testing, similar to tests done with athletes, can determine functional difficulties and therefore determine the location of the brain injury.
  9. I still feel out of sorts 6 months after my brain injury so I doubt I will ever get better.
    FALSE – The brain may continue to recover for up to two years after the injury, or even longer. Nerve injury healing processes require time and patience, and the brain can continue to repair itself for up to several years. Brain retraining through Speech Therapy and mind strategies such as computer games or PDA applications can assist with brain healing by allowing the brain to lay down new pathways to perform the functions lost with the original injury. Exercise and balance training can also improve function and healing. Please consult your physician about the electronic devices and exercise program that are best for you.
  10. I cannot wait to be my old self again. That will surely happen.
    FALSE – Even mild traumatic brain injury can lead to a shift in brain function and even personality. Usually, the period of loss of consciousness or decreased consciousness is often followed by a period of heightened awareness or hyperactivity, especially if you have been injured during a time in which you were hyper adrenanlin and cortisol charged, such as on the battlefield or the playing field. This may last for many months, and you and your family must be patient until the brain arrives at the new “steady state” which usually approximates but does not match your old self. You and your family should not get discouraged, but understand the process and accept these changes as they occur. Many navigators in Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, lose their ability to read maps and follow directions after IED blasts and this is very frustrating and depressing. However, when one realizes that the mapping center of the brain is very small and unprotected, and that the loss can be overcome by using such devices as GPS systems and electronics, then a person can learn to become better adept at using technology to replace previous brain functions. In other words, you may not ever become your old self, again, but with knowledge and technology, you will improve your function and therefore your mood and attitude. Family counseling is very important during the period of brain regrowth.