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Behavioral Effects After a Traumatic Brain Injury

By Edited Jun 9, 2016 1 0

When a traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs, this kind of injury impacts the body in a number of ways. Being the brain is the central organ in the human body, when a person sustains a TBI, often his or her physical and cognitive abilities are afflicted.

The sections of the brain injured usually cannot be seen without the aid of diagnostic tools, but even though the physical injuries cannot outwardly be seen, the effects are very real. For many years TBI was known as "the silent epidemic" and many people were either misdiagnosed or their head injuries were not diagnosed at all.

Many of the early symptoms of TBI may clear up over time, but others often persist long after the head injury occurs. Some of these may also resolve as time passes, but some of the impacts from the injury can continue indefinitely or permanently. Symptoms may persist regardless of severity, any TBI, mild, moderate or severe, can have long-term effects.

Cognitive Effects

The cognitive effects a person has can emerge in a several ways, and one of the most prominent ways it shows is through behavior. Injured persons and/or their loved ones sometimes notice after a TBI occurs behavioral functioning has changed. Some people even describe their loved ones as being a different person after the injury.

Those who are unknowing a person has sustained a TBI may not understand some types of behavior. It might be perceived the person is acting rude or odd due to things said or done. However, it is the injured brain cells causing this behavior that are deemed to be outside the realm of what society perceives as the "norm".  In many instances, an injury to the frontal lobe is the cause of these kinds of behaviors, but injuries to other parts of the brain can also affect how a person acts or responds to or during situations.

Brain lobes
Credit: ArtsyBee via Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/brain-lobes-neurology-human-body-1007686/

An injury to the frontal lobe (in blue) can have a significant impact on a person's cognitive abilities, but injury to any of the other lobes can also cause changes in how a person responds or acts.

Here are a few of the ways behavioral functioning can be affected by traumatic brain injury:

Impulsiveness

Many people who have experienced a head injury may find they are much more impulsive than they were pre-injury. They may say or do things on a whim without giving thought. This impulsiveness also can emerge as persistent interruptions during the course of a conversation or other meeting. Or, it can be a safety issue, such as crossing a street without looking for cars. Disinhibition is also often present.

Decreased Judgment

People affected by a traumatic brain injury may lack the judgment they had before the injury. They may or may not be aware of this loss.  Other people may perceive this as the person being unintelligent, however, this also is not the case. Any inappropriateness that is exhibited is not due to the person's wanting to say or do unsuitable things, but is directly related to the injury itself. The reason is the brain cannot essentially make the same judgment calls it did before the TBI because the cells which control these areas of thinking were damaged and will never be the same. 

Brain
Credit: Geralt via Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/brain-biology-abstract-cerebrum-951874/

Modern research suggests the brain can "rewire" itself to some extent after a part of it is injured, but there is still so much to be learned when it comes to the brain. Early identification and rehabilitative intervention can help tremendously.

Inattentive/Loss of Concentration

Inattentiveness is another behavioral issue which may arise post-TBI. Injured persons may not have the same attention span they did before the accident and, as a result, possess an inability to stay focused for long periods of time. 

For instance, a person with traumatic brain injury may come across as being rude when engaged in a conversation. This is not because he or she is intending to be impolite, but it could be hard for him or her to concentrate on what's being said. He or she is also likely unaware things he or she has said or done during the conversation are perceived as being impolite.

Another reason for a lack of attention may be because too much information is being shared and this creates distractions and a loss of concentration. Some injuries affect a person in such a way he or she needs a chance to catch up and process what's been shared, or may need the information to be delivered in smaller "chunks" of information.

Social Strategies Can Help

It is important to understand that a brain injury is very unlike other injuries. Brain cells do not regenerate like other body cells and thus do not heal the same way. Many doctors have long believed the cells to be no longer working once they are affected by the injury. There is still a lot to be learned about the brain and being it is the organ that controls all bodily movement and thinking, any injury, no matter how slight an injury is, can cause a change in behavior.

This does not mean there isn't a road to recovery. Early diagnosis and medical attention, followed by rehab and therapy can help reduce any of the impact from a TBI. By developing social strategies with the aid of family members, friends and professionals, many people can successfully find ways to mitigate their behavioral issues and, in some instances, learn or relearn behaviors. Social cues often help too. For some people, medication is an option.

It is important to understand though that living with a TBI is not always easy. For the person living with a brain injury, he or she has to adapt to a whole new normal because things will never be the same as before. It is important to try and show some patience and understanding when a person who has suffered this kind of injury acts outside what is oft considered to be the norm. The reason is these behaviors often cannot be controlled or are difficult to control.

Related Reading:

Long-Term Consequences of Traumatic Brain Injury

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Bibliography

  1. "Frontal Lobes." Neuroskills. 11/04/2016 <Web >
  2. "Interventions For Behavioral Problems After Brain Injury." Brainline.org. 11/04/2016 <Web >
  3. "Behavioral Problems of TBI." Betty Clooney Center. 11/04/2016 <Web >
  4. "Cognitive Problems after Traumatic Brain Injury." MSKTC. 11/04/2016 <Web >

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