A Traumatic Brain Injury from a Concussion Can Cause Emotional Problems
“It’s just a concussion.” Have you ever heard someone make that remark after suffering a blow to the head? Perhaps even a doctor or other medical provider was the one downplaying the diagnosis. The Mayo Clinic provides the following definition of a concussion:
“A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions.”
While it is true that some concussions may indeed be milder than others, make no mistake — any concussion is a serious matter.
When it’s not “just a concussion”
When someone suffers a concussion from a jarring football tackle, a car accident or a work-related injury, their initial response may be to shake it off and continue on with their game, trip or job duties. However, doing so can have very serious (and sometimes fatal) repercussions.
Some may recall the death of actress Natasha Richardson, which occurred in 2009 after she suffered what was initially believed to be a minor fall on the ski slopes of Mont Tremblant, Quebec. The actress, like many who suffer a blow to the head, had a “lucid interval” immediately after her fall and did not initially head to the hospital. That decision cost Richardson her life, as she suffered a fatal bleed that compressed her brain and resulted in her family removing her from life support two days after her fall.
Complications from a traumatic brain injury
Even when a TBI isn’t fatal, that doesn’t mean that there are no long-term complications that can derail an otherwise promising life. One of the most serious repercussions of a TBI is the emotional lability that results from these types of injuries. Brain injuries can alter the way injured people feel and express their emotions. Mood swings are particularly common, and someone recovering from a TBI may rapidly cycle through periods of despondency to anger and inappropriate elation.
The complication develops when the section of the brain responsible for controlling behavior and emotions is damaged. TBI patients can suffer these episodes with no apparent trigger, and their fits of hysterical laughter or crying jags may have no link to how they actually feel at the time. This can make it hard for family members and family to respond to them at these times, as patients can lash out in unprovoked anger or laugh uproariously when informed of sad news such as a friend or relative’s illness or death.
Coping with outbursts
Research indicates that over 70 percent of those diagnosed with TBI struggle with irritability. This can manifest itself in temper outbursts that are distressing not only to the TBI patients but to their family, friends and caregivers. They frequently curse, punch walls and other stationary objects, slam doors, make threats and throw things randomly across a room or even at other people.
As can be expected in these cases, family members of TBI patients often feel as if they have to walk on eggshells around their loved ones to avoid potentially setting them off. This can put spouses, children, parents and siblings under enormous pressure and ultimately decimate their formerly loving relationships with their injured family members.
Causes of outbursts
While almost anything can set off an outburst in TBI patients, the causes can stem from all of the following brain injury ramifications:
- The brain injuries that keep patients from remaining in control of their emotions.
- Feelings of depression, isolation or of being misunderstood.
- Inability to accept the “new normal” that has become their day-to-day lives.
- Frustration at being dependent on caregivers and family members for their basic needs to be met coupled with their inability to live independently and continue working.
- Problems with communication and expressing themselves in conversations or following the conversations of others.
- Inability to concentrate and recall information, names and instructions.
- Lingering pain from their injuries.
Sometimes the emotional problems of TBI sufferers resolve after a few months, allowing them to achieve emotional balance and express themselves as before. A neurologist can offer referrals to psychiatrists or psychologists to prescribe medication or suggest coping strategies to help their patients regain control of their emotions. Family members can often benefit from counseling as well, as it can help them to develop a thicker skin and learn ways to diffuse the TBI patient’s outbursts.
For caregivers and family members
If you are struggling to care for a TBI patient, the following can help you assist them with managing their labile emotions.
- Keep yourself calm during these outbursts and refrain from expressing your own emotional reactions.
- Eliminate external stimuli that can be exacerbating their meltdown, e.g., barking dogs, crying children, too-loud TVs, etc.
- If you are in a public area, remove the patient to a quiet spot until they have regained control or the episode has passed.
- Acknowledge your family member’s feelings and encourage them to express their feelings or frustration or anger in a more constructive way.
- At the first signs an outburst is building, redirect their attention to another activity or conversation.
- Remain supportive and non-judgmental throughout the duration of the outburst.
Being a caregiver to a loved one with a TBI is a difficult role to fulfill. The stress can mount and permanently alter the relationship one has with a spouse, parent, sibling or child. It is often preferable to have professional caregivers employed to meet TBI patients’ day-to-day needs, as they can perform these duties without being hampered by the emotional involvement family members have with their loved ones.
Covering the expenses of TBI care
Meeting the medical and caregiving expenses of TBI patients can be quite daunting. Even with medical insurance coverage, co-pays and deductibles can be costly, especially if the injured family member was a breadwinner for the family. Retaining quality caregivers over the months and years they may be needed is expensive as well, and can quickly deplete the resources of an average family.
If you or a family member suffered a TBI due to an accident or injury where another person or company was responsible, you are entitled to pursue compensation for those expenses associated with the TBI.