An acquired brain injury refers to an injury to the brain that is not hereditary or congenital and occurs after birth. Acquired brain injuries can cause severe symptoms, and therefore will require a complex treatment regimen.
To help you make a successful recovery, this article will cover the causes, types, and treatments for acquired brain injury.
Causes and Types of Acquired Brain Injury
Acquired brain injuries can be divided into two categories: traumatic and non-traumatic. The most common type of acquired brain injury is a traumatic brain injury, which is caused by a sudden impact that damages the brain.
Some types of non-traumatic acquired brain injury include:
- Anoxic or hypoxic injuries, such as drowning or choking
- Infections, such as meningitis
- Strokes and aneurysms
- Brain tumors
But no matter what caused your brain damage, the symptoms of acquired brain injury are mostly identical.
Symptoms of Acquired Brain Injury
Symptoms of acquired brain injury can be divided into three main categories: physical, cognitive, and emotional/behavioral.
In the sections below you will find a list of the most common symptoms, grouped according to type.
While not every patient will experience all of these symptoms, acquired brain injuries can cause a number of physical problems, such as:
- Loss of coordination
- Dizziness and balance problems
- Weakness and/or paralysis
- Hearing loss, vision changes, and numbness
In addition to these symptoms, patients can also experience seizures and epilepsy. These mostly occur after certain types of acquired brain injuries, however, such as infections.
Some cognitive changes that acquired brain injury can cause include:
- Speech and communication problems
- Memory loss
- Attention difficulties
- Poor decision-making and judgment, including impaired insight into one’s own deficits
- Difficulty remembering and learning new things
Finally, acquired brain injury can lead to emotional and behavioral changes, such as:
- Aggressive behavior and irritability
- Poor social skills
- Lack of insight
- Sudden mood swings (emotional lability)
Not every patient will experience all of these symptoms. That is why therapists and physicians should customize acquired brain injury treatment to fit the person’s needs.
How Acquired Brain Injury Treatment Works
Treatment for acquired brain injury will involve a key strategy: activating neuroplasticity through exercise/activities.
Neuroplasticity refers to the mechanism your brain uses to repair itself after injury. It allows undamaged portions of the brain to take over functions from damaged areas. It’s also the main reason why many people are able to regain the ability to speak or walk even after a serious injury.
The best way to activate neuroplasticity is through repetitious exercise. The more you stimulate your brain through exercise, the more neural pathways your brain will create in response. With these new neural pathways in place, your symptoms should decrease, and you should begin to regain function.
However, you cannot perform just any sort of exercise and expect to see results. Rather, treatment should be tailored to your specific needs and be as functional as possible. Some therapies that can help you accomplish this are listed below:
1. Physical and Occupational Therapy
Physical and occupational therapy are two of the most effective treatments for acquired brain injury.
Physical therapy works to rebuild physical strength, coordination, balance, and flexibility after ABI. It also increases cerebral blood flow, giving your brain the nutrients it needs to function and heal.
- Getting dressed
Once you are beginning to master the activities of daily living, your occupational therapist may begin to work on higher-level skills such as home-making tasks, medication management, finances, shopping, etc. Amongst these treatments, an occupational therapist will be working with you to recover the cognitive skills necessary to live independently.
Both PT and OT utilize the principle of neuroplasticity to guide their treatment, which makes them an integral part of any acquired brain injury treatment plan.
2. Speech Therapy
If your acquired brain injury caused cognitive deficits, aphasia or any other communication disorders, begin speech therapy right away. Because the sooner you receive treatment, the better your chances of recovery.
Most speech therapists will walk you through TBI speech therapy activities and show you exactly what you need to do to recover your language skills.
Speech therapists can also help you improve your conversation and socializing skills. For example, they can teach how to:
- pay attention
- respond appropriately
- match voice pitch and volume with others
Additionally, they will address the cognitive skills that are often impaired after ABI, such as memory, attention, planning/goal-setting, etc. This makes speech therapy an integral aspect of acquired brain injury treatment.
3. Home Therapy Programs
Unfortunately, receiving therapy once or twice per week (as is usually typical with outpatient treatment), will only serve as a guide for your recovery process. You will need to continue practicing skills at home outside of your allotted therapy times to truly produce the results you need to recover.
In fact, animal studies have shown that it takes about 400 to 600 repetitions per day of challenging functional tasks to cause changes in the brain.
Therefore, to make progress, you must practice at home the exercises you learn at therapy. You can have your therapist write you a home exercise sheet to help you remember exactly how to do them.
This can be hard to keep up with, however, and many acquired brain injury patients struggle to finish the number of exercises needed. Fortunately, devices such as Flint Rehab’s FitMi can help you overcome this problem.
FitMi brings an element of gaming to rehab and challenges you to beat your high score. In fact, the average patient accomplishes about 23 times more repetitions with FitMi than with traditional therapy.
Practicing your exercises at home every day will help make your acquired brain injury treatment a success.
4. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
In addition, if you struggle with behavioral and emotional problems after acquired brain injury, CBT is an excellent treatment option.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most scientifically verified psychotherapy treatment. In fact, there are over 1,000 studies on 10,000 patients, all demonstrating its effectiveness. It has successfully treated a variety of disorders, including some of the emotional/behavioral problems from brain injury.
To get to the root of emotional or behavioral issues, most CBT treatments focus on uncovering unhealthy thinking patterns.
For example, if you have anxiety after TBI, a cognitive therapist can help you identify any thoughts that might fuel your anxiety. Then, they will teach you helpful techniques to stop these thoughts from consuming you.
Finally, certain medications can help treat severe brain injury symptoms.
Some of the most common drugs prescribed for acquired brain injury patients include:
- Stimulants, such as Ritalin
- Antidepressants, such as Prozac
- Antiparkinson agents
- Baclofen and Botox
Many of these drugs come with serious side effects, however. Therefore, do not start any medications without your doctor’s approval.
Understanding Treatments for Acquired Brain Injury
Acquired brain injuries are complex medical problems that require intensive treatments. Most patients will benefit from combining multiple treatments to address their wide range of symptoms.
With the correct treatment plan, however, it is possible to reverse many of the worst symptoms of brain injury and regain your independence.