An Introduction to Brain Injuries
Brain injury is long lasting and, largely, irreversible. The brain is comprised of billions of cells called neurons. Unlike other kinds of cells in the body, neurons are relatively delicate and are not designed to withstand physical trauma. If neurons are stretched or torn, local or diffuse areas of irreversible damage can occur.
When a neuron dies, biological substances are released into surrounding areas of brain tissue which cause a chain of neuronal death. The unfortunate consequence is that in many cases of brain injury, the quantum of damage is hard to ascertain following the initial injury. It is important to understand that unlike other kinds of injuries, the symptoms resulting from a brain injury often become worse over time.
Causes of Brain Injuries
Car crashes resulting in whiplash and concussion, bicycle accidents, workplace injuries, slips and falls, sports-related events, and blows to the head during an assault are all common causes of brain injury. In rare circumstances brain injuries can also arise from certain medical procedures.
According to a Canadian survey, traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability in people under 35 years of age. The World Health Organization defines an acquired brain injury as “Damage to the brain, which occurs after birth and is not related to a congenital or a degenerative disease.” 1 to 2 out of every 1000 individuals is estimated to suffer from an acquired brain injury after birth and the majority of the survivors will require rehabilitation and other medical services.
Injuries to the brain result in bruising, bleeding, swelling, fever, anoxia, shearing and tearing of neurons, intracranial pressure, and dangerous shifting of brain regions. While in many instances, other areas of the brain are able to compensate for the damage, individuals will often require assistance while learning to adapt to differences in their post-accident functioning.
Classification of Brain Injuries
Brain injuries are generally classified as one of: severe closed or open brain injury, mild or moderate brain injury, and concussion. Where there is no wound to the head, the injury is diagnosed as being closed-head. Conversely, where there is an obvious wound, an open-head injury has occurred. Both injuries can lead to a coma or a vegetative state and the resulting loss of consciousness may persist for varying amounts of time. In cases where the loss of consciousness is relatively short, recovery will be maximal, if not complete. However, when the injury results in an unconscious state lasting days or weeks, an individual will in most circumstances, present with significant mental and physical deficits.
While mild and moderate brain injuries may not be as visible or traumatic as an open-head injury, the difficulty with these kinds of injuries is that they tend to go untreated. For example, a bump on the head resulting from a slip and fall may result in minor pain, dizziness, and a headache. However, when not monitored, these kinds of conditions may be indicators of more serious complications in the near or distant future.
One of the most frequent types of brain injury sustained in an accident is a concussion. A concussion results from the forces applied to the head which lead to a shaking of the brain and subsequent impact with the hard surface of the skull. While concussions may resolve on their own, in some circumstances, a post-concussive syndrome may arise. The related symptoms tend to be very subtle and may go unnoticed except by family members and/or friends. A person may be suffering from post-concussive syndrome if they experience prolonged periods of dizziness, confusion, fatigue, light headedness, headaches, irritability, disorientation, seeing bring lights or stars, and in some cases, depression.
Consequences of Brain Injuries
Individuals with an acquired brain injury are likely to suffer from one or more cognitive, physical, psychological, and social deficits. Specifically, one can expect to encounter difficulties with memory, a slowed ability to process information, difficulty in concentrating, seizures, vision problems, headaches, fatigue, an increased need for sleep, difficulty completing tasks without reminders, increased anxiety, depression and mood swings, impulsive behaviour, difficulty making decisions, and behaviours that may result in harm to oneself and others. Individuals may also suffer from orientation deficits, reasoning and problem solving deficits, and poor organizational abilities. Because the brain coordinates body movement, if motor-related areas in the brain are injured, simple tasks like grooming, getting dressed, and maintaining posture may become impossible without assistance. Moreover, decreased mobility is likely to result in muscle and joint stiffness.
In extreme cases individuals may be rendered unable to speak, aphasic, lose the ability to perceive pain and pressure, taste, see, and smell, and experience paralysis.
It is not surprising that acquired brain injuries significantly impact a person’s day-to-day and future quality of life. Not only is the individual who has sustained a brain injury affected, but for families and significant others, the effects of a brain injury are equally devastating. Often, family members will struggle to comprehend the full impact of the injury and maladaptive behavioural patterns. There is often a loss of intimacy, reorientation of roles and responsibilities, and an impact on one’s ability to cope with everyday tasks and challenges.
Our lawyers understand brain injuries. Members of our team have experience with the kinds of challenges you and your family are undoubtedly facing, the complexity of the symptoms you may be experiencing, and the rehabilitation and accommodation that you require.