Head Injuries- Even Mild Ones Should Be Evaluated

Q:  Several weeks ago I was in a car accident and hit my head rather hard.  I felt groggy for about an hour, but I never lost consciousness.  I went to an emergency room, but I was not hospitalized.  Recently I’ve been having trouble concentrating at work and have been more absent-minded than usual.  I’ve also been having frequent headaches.  My sister is a nurse and she thinks I may have some brain injury.  Could this be possible in light of the fact I was never knocked unconscious?

A:  It is estimated that nearly 300,000 people a year suffer from the effects of a mild head injury.  These are people who may have been unconscious for periods of less than 20 minutes due to injury or illness.  Many have not even required hospitalization.  However, many mild head injuries can cause subsequent brain damage of varying degrees that can affect a person’s ability to work, communicate with others and function appropriately in a social setting.

Mild brain injuries are sometimes difficult to diagnose because the damage cannot be seen and many of the symptoms look like mental illness or simple behavior problems.  But, if you are experiencing unexplained personality changes and difficulties in coping with tasks at work or school, a brain injury evaluation may be beneficial. 

Common symptoms of mild head injury include:

Physical

      –         dizziness
      –         fatigue
      –         headache
      –         visual difficulties
      –         sleep disturbances

Cognitive/Intellectual

      –         inability to concentrate
      –         memory problems
      –         problems being organized
      –         slowness in task performance
      –         difficulty putting thoughts into words

Psychosocial

      –         depression
      –         anxiety
      –         angry outbursts
      –         irritability

A brain injury evaluation is indicated for anyone who has had a mild head injury and exhibits two or more of the above symptoms in each category.  If the presence of a mild brain injury is detected, the person can participate in a rehabilitative program of cognitive retraining, psychosocial adjustment, communication skills, vocational counseling, work-site interventions and job placement.

The Brain Injury Clinic at Sister Kenny Institute specializes in the evaluation and treatment of mild head injuries.  The Clinic uses a interdisciplinary team approach to address and treat the wide range of problems associated with even a mild head injury.

The brain injury evaluation will help you understand any changes you’re having and whether or not these might be caused by your recent head injury.  Every person and situation is different, so assessment and evaluation are extremely important.

You may be asked to participate in interviews, perform various tests and tasks, and to allow team members to speak with friends, family members and coworkers who can provide information on your past and recent behavior patterns.  To avoid repeating tests you may have already had, you’ll also be asked to provide records of past medical or psychological assessments.

Depending upon your evaluation, you and the team may decide that some type of therapy or counseling may be helpful.  This could include:

  – improving your concentration, thinking and memory
  – improving your ability to be organized, to remember and get things done
  – improving your ability to communicate with others
  – dealing with your physical handicaps and health concerns
  – dealing with your personal feelings
  – restoring your confidence in your abilities
  – assisting in your relationships with others
  – helping you to identify suitable work
  – assisting family members
  – helping you to identify resources which may assist you.

Many programs and services which address the needs of brain-injured adults are available in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.  The Brain Injury Clinic will aid you in identifying and using appropriate community resources in a coordinated and integrated rehabilitation plan designed for your specific needs.  The Clinic will collaborate with other service providers by contributing evaluation, programming consultations and the appropriate degree of case coordination assistance.  Your program would be specific to you and tailored to meet your individual needs.

The team will design a program proposal, which they will discuss with you and any others who are involved in your care (insurance representatives, physicians, family members, etc.).  With your agreement, the proposal will become a treatment plan and therapy/counseling will begin.

In some cases, a program or agency other than the Brain Injury Clinic may be more appropriate and the team will make the referral to that program.

You should always consult your personal physician about any medical problems you are experiencing.  An excellent resource for information on head injuries and services and resources available for persons with brain injury is the Minnesota Head Injury Association, 12 Colonial Office Park, 2700 University Ave. W., St. Paul, MN 55114, phone (612) 644-1121.  For more information on the Brain Injury Clinic, contact Joan Brandl, Intake Coordinator, Sister Kenny Institute Brain Injury Clinic, 800 e. 28th St., Minneapolis, MN 55407-3799, phone (612) 863-5441.

George Montgomery, PhD
Director, Brain Injury Clinic
Sister Kenny Institute

To submit questions on medical or rehabilitative issues for future columns, write:  Medical Issues and Disability, Sister Kenny Institute, Dept. 16601, 800 E. 28th St., Minneapolis, MN 55407-3799