10. So what is a TBI anyway? (Brain injury explained)

Before 2007 if someone told me they had a brain injury I would have had no idea what they meant and probably thought that they were were suffering with a mental illness. That’s what I would have thought so I can’t really complain if people think that can I? Actually its nothing to do with mental illness, it is a cognitive impairment. It is an injury to the brain that affects the mechanism causing it to stop working normally.
Just like the different organs in your body do different jobs different areas of your brain do different things. For example your memories are stored in a different place to the area you use to understand language, the bit that realises that what you are looking at is a red Ferrari is in a different area to where you work out 15 + 7. Injuring one particular area generally means you are left with difficulty in whatever that area does. Some functions are just out of order just like when you buy a second hand car one or two of the original features of the car no longer work. If the car drove fine but the heater didn’t work any longer you wouldn’t write the car off would you? It may not be great in cold weather but you would put up with it because the cars good points massively out weigh the bad you just would wear a coat when you drove. If someone you knew with a TBI had issues with their social filter and often made highly inappropriate comments you wouldn’t take them to a posh restaurant!They are still the same person its just that their politeness function is a faulty!

Its not always that simple though, the brain is all wired together and the different parts communicate with each other by electrical signals, similar to the wiring in a house. It is possible that the trauma could damage thiswiring; messages cannot reach their destination and could cause other problems elsewhere in the brain. It is true with speech though; the area responsible for speech is on the left side; if you injure that area alone then you will have trouble with your speech and nothing else. Your vision, personality, ability to plan and organise as well as your problem solving skills are left intact. Imagine how frustrating it could get for that person if they were mistaken as having low intelligence. Actuallythey could understand everything no problem, only could not tell anybody that because their ability to speak no longer works correctly, not because of any damage to their mouth or voice box but the part that controls speech in their brain.

When I was told that I had a brain injury I had never even heard of it but it is something I have slowly become quite knowledgeable about (I kind of had no choice!). I have found taking on new information to be much harder than it used to be (some of my wiring has been damaged), something that really works for me is the use of analogies to simplify things. I really started to begin to understand when I read this analogy in a textbook to explain a Traumatic Brain Injury; I’ve altered it a little bit:

The brain is made up of not millions but billions of cells called neurons that all talk to each other using electrical signals. This is simplifying it massively but think of the brain as a city like New York and think of the neurons as the city streets, electrical signals as those iconic yellow cabs of NYC. When we do anything it is coordinated inthe brain, somewhere an electrical signal takes a route across the brain from point A to point B. Example; the footballer sees the ball and a message is sent from to visual part to the part that controls muscles in the leg to kick it, this is a job the footballer’s brain is used to doing.

Jobs the brain does regularly are just like many of the yellow cabs taking the same route day after day. In the footballers’ brain somewhere that action will be written. It is something they will have done many times so the electrical signal is used to taking the same path in the brain this is known as a neural pathway. Imagine how well worn that pathway will be in the brain of David Beckham.

In Beckham City the taxi driver has taken the same route across the city many times, it is used to taking that routestrengthening the neural pathway. This explains why practice makes perfect and how old people become ‘set in their ways’ (because their neural pathways are so strong from all the repeated use). When you do something new then the brain has to create a new neural pathway, it is new so we’re not used to doing it. The taxi driver is taking a route he is not used to, so will takelonger to complete the journey. This is why we’re much slower and perhaps more cautious when we do something for the first time.

Then comes a massive disaster like a massive earthquake! This represents the traumatic brain injury in the city and just about everything shuts down, all the roads are closed.The brain is in shock and possibly goes into a coma, there is minimal lighting and very few cars are going anywhere. Many of the electrical signals have ceased moving, many of the roads or neural pathways they travel down are blocked or permanently closed.

As you wake from coma its like pressing a reset button on your computer, the brain has to relearn how to make connections, this is like the taxis having to use back streets and alley ways to get their passengers to their destinations, everything is slow at first. The new route they use takes them longer to the same destination. Just like after a brain injury the brain must make new neural pathways and performing the same tasks now takes them longer than before. Some functions will be lost or the roads may be permanently closed. This is where that person has to use techniques, especially to assist in memory. Brain injury has been a very confusing time for me (and still is!). I do hope you were able to follow that!

Well I think that’s enough for now! Like I said I’m not medically qualified and do not claim to be I’m just trying to pass on some information I have found very interesting. I do hope that you liked it! If you did please let me know in the comments in the blog itself, I love getting your feedback!

Brooke x

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