How Serious Head Injuries Affect the Brain

The average adult human brain weighs approximately three pounds. It controls all functions of the body, interprets information received from our five senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing) and enables us to communicate thoughts, knowledge, and emotions with others. The brain assembles sensory messages in a way that has meaning for us and can store this information in our memory for later use. The brain also determines our responses to stress (losing a job, worrying over a loved one, suffering an illness, or confrontation with a life-or-death situation) by regulating our heart, breathing rate, and our emotional “triggers.”

Such a sophisticated and vital organ can also be subject to injury, much of it traumatic.  Whether the brain injury is mild or severe, the effects may be long-term depending on the severity, location, and cause of the injury. Understanding how trauma affects your brain may help you better understand your injury as you recover.

A Physical Description of the Brain

Since the brain is the control center for all of a human body’s activity, thinking, judgment, and emotional reactions, understanding how different parts of the brain work helps us grasp how injury affects a person’s ability and behavior.

The brain has three primary components:  the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brainstem. The cerebrum is the foremost and largest part of the brain. It is composed of right and left hemispheres and divided into four lobes (frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital) and is located at the front.

The Cerebrum performs higher-end brain functions such as interpreting sensory stimuli like touch, vision, hearing, speech, reasoning, emotions, learning, and fine-control of bodily movements.

The Cerebellum is located under the rear of the cerebrum. It coordinates muscular movement and maintains posture and balance.

The Brainstem includes the midbrain, pons, and medulla. Think of the brainstem as you would the transmission in your car.  It relays to the body, through the spinal cord, commands that originate in the cerebrum and cerebellum — both involuntary and voluntary movements. This includes automatic functions such as breathing, heart rate, body temperature, wake and sleep cycles, digestion, sneezing, coughing, vomiting, and swallowing.

What Happens when Someone Suffers a TBI?

Physical Problems

Unless the injury is catastrophic, most people can relearn how to walk and use their hands within six months to a year of their injury. Many who suffer a non-catastrophic TBI can return to independent living, including working and driving. In the longer term, TBI victims can find themselves with reduced coordination or problems with balance. They may tire easily from normal physical exertion.

Cognitive (Thinking) Problems

  • People with moderate to severe TBI experience diminished basic cognitive skills such as paying attention, focusing, and processing new information.
  • They often think, speak, and solve problems more slowly than they used to.
  • They can become easily confused when their routines suddenly change.
  • Myopia can occur when performing a task to the point of having difficulty moving to the next one.
  • But they also jump to conclusions or solutions without thinking clearly, or to a logical end.
  • They may have speech and language problems, such as trouble finding the right word in conversation.
  • TBI victims often have difficulty understanding the complex challenges that make up the ability to live independently. The brain processes large amounts of complex information – called “executive function.” TBI victims have difficulty grasping the subtle tasks that make up executive function, thereby making it difficult to intellectually perform tasks well enough to be independent.

Emotional/Behavioral Problems

These are a common TBI challenge, for several reasons:

  • The changes are directly relative to the damage to brain tissue, especially injuries to the frontal lobe, which controls emotion and behavior.
  • Cognitive problems may lead to emotional changes or exacerbate existing conditions. For example, a person who cannot focus well enough to follow a conversation may become very frustrated and upset by that inability.
  • People with TBI have strong emotional reactions to the major life changes caused by their injury. Some examples include the loss of job and income, changes in family roles, and needing supervision for the first time in one’s adult life.

Brain injuries can also cause distressing new behaviors or change the victim’s personality. This is very upsetting to both the victim and the people in their life. These behaviors may include:

  • Restlessness
  • Becoming more dependent on others
  • Wide emotional or mood swings
  • Lack of motivation
  • Acting inappropriately in different situations
  • Lack of self-awareness
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Lethargy

If you or someone you love is suffering from a brain injury, the Houston brain injury attorneys at Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law are here to protect your rights. Call us any time to learn more about how you can take legal action after a brain injury.