National Alliance on Mental Illness
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A brain injury is a long-term or temporary disruption in brain function resulting from injury to the brain. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) occurs when there is a strong enough impact to the head to cause damage to the brain. Common causes of TBI include motorcycle accidents, sports injuries, falls or acts of violence.
TBI has been called the “signature injury” of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Increasingly, soldiers are surviving nearby bomb blasts, which produce brain injury through pressure waves that “shake” the brain, which can cause symptoms ranging from dizziness and drowsiness to vomiting, severe headache and shock. If the injury is severe enough the damage can be irreversible, leaving lasting mental effects including depression, anxiety, personality changes, aggression, acting out and social inappropriateness. TBI can cause changes in personality, thinking and sensation and increase the risk of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other brain disorders.
In soldiers, the symptoms may also overlap with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), making it more difficult for doctors to treat.
The outlook for service members with TBI is improving, in part due to increasing military focus on brain injury treatment, like the new Concussion Restoration Care Center for Marines in Afghanistan. Another new program, run by the National Naval Medical Center’s Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Team, offers hope to veterans with multiple issues by treating their TBI, PTSD and substance abuse simultaneously. Another promising development is a new study investigating the use of video games to treat TBI. Injured veterans are already using the Wii as part of their rehabilitation.
Veterans affected by TBI and their families often need help navigating the system and support that takes into account the special needs of veterans. The good news is that there are many others who have been touched by a TBI and are trying to help others. See this Washington Post Q & A with Cheryl Lynch, mother of someone living with a traumatic brain injury and founder of American Veterans with Brain Injuries.