Living With a Traumatic Brain Injury

Often when a TBI survivor is discharged from the hospital or rehab setting, there are no visual signs of a brain injury. Perhaps the TBI survivor will have scars, the loss of weight, problems with ambulation, or even some speech difficulty, but those are all visual signs. No one can actually see the damage to the brain.

A TBI can be compared to a used car. Before purchasing a used car, the potential buyer almost always asks if the vehicle has ever been in an accident. Why? Once a vehicle has been wrecked, it is never quite the same; regardless of how well the repairs were made at an automobile body shop. How can the human brain, which is the CEO of the entire body, be less sensitive than a pile of rubber, iron, and metal?

You may have experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or know someone who has. TBI is often referred to as the silent epidemic. Please be encouraged to share your experience at the bottom of this blog. Your experience which may include approaches that helped you and some that may not have been as beneficial as hoped.


This list is not all inclusive; however, they are perhaps, the most prevalent:

Poor impulse control.  This is primary if the frontal lobe is involved.  The main thing the brain does is tell us what not to do.  That is kept intact by very tiny inhibitors.  If these inhibitors have been severed by an insult to the brain, we can lose a split second and say or do things that are inappropriate.  This can damage relationships because people do not see that it is caused by a physical problem.

Anxiety/depression – This is essentially universal with TBI, and the survivor will not be able to withstand as much stress as others.

Poor short-term memory (STM) –  Memory is so complex that it defies definition.  There is no part of the brain that does not involve memory. Also, if the survivor is under a great deal of stress, the STM can be MUCH worse.

Sizing Up Social Situations – A TBI survivor may have problems reading social cues, which will result in him/her acting in a manner that may appear inappropriate.  It’s important to remember this is not his/her fault; however, it’s okay to speak with them about this, when you have 1:1 time.  As you might note, problems sizing up social situations are often related to impulse control.

Fatigue – A TBI survivor will need more rest than others.  This is often not because of rest needed for the body; rather it is rest needed for the brain.

Potential for seizures – Though not always the case, they can have an onset several years following the TBI and are often stress induced.  All efforts should be made to keep them under control with anticonvulsant medications.

Dysarthria – This affects the muscles around the mouth, which can affect articulation.

Concentration. – Focusing attention on one task or one discussion for a lengthy period of time can be an enormous task.

Now, things to do:

Research on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), TBI, and anxiety/depression can be very helpful. 

Avoid negative people (when possible). Don’t worry what other people are thinking of you…they aren’t thinking of you. They are thinking of themselves and what others are thinking of them!

Should you care to learn more about living with TBI, read the ebook, Rise Above: Conquering Adversities 2nd Edition.  It’s also available online in paperback format. All my best to you…

What is the likelihood that someone with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) will make a full recovery?  Slim to none.  Please note that I put full recovery in italics.  Normally, with a TBI the most recovery is in the first six months, the second most are in the first two years; afterward, recovery is in small steps.  

In all likelihood a TBI survivor will always have issues with short-term memory (STM); even though it probably will improve some depending on how long ago the injury.  There is essentially no part of the brain that does not involve memory.   A survivor’s speech may be slightly slurred.  This is dysarthria, which affects the muscles around the mouth and can make articulation a challenge. 

If there is damage to the frontal lobe, the TBI survivor might have problems with poor impulse control.  As stated earlier, the main thing the brain does is tell us what not to do.  There are extremely small inhibitors in the brain that prevent us from doing or saying things that might be inappropriate.  If they are severed we lose a split second and say or do things we would not ordinarily say or do. This can destroy relationships because others cannot see that it is a physical problem.

Anxiety/depression following TBI is essentially universal.  A survivor will need to avoid stress as much as possible.  He will also need rest.  If he can attend a TBI support group, I highly recommend it.

It is important to know that not all brain injuries are the same.  Some TBI survivors have earned doctoral degrees, written books, going into the public speaking profession, and taught at the university level.  That is just to name a very few things some people have accomplished after surviving a traumatic brain injury.  

Please note this is not to imply they had a full recovery from their TBI.  The things mentioned were from a great deal of fortitude and many times being able to adapt, as well as having a strong support network.

Dr. Greg Little is a nationally known speaker and motivator. He has presented seminars on Laughter, Substance Abuse Treatment & Mental Health Treatment extensively throughout the United States. His book, "Rise Above: Conquering Adversities," has sold in ten (10) countries and helped countless individuals realize they are limited only by their ability to adapt.


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