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In this blog series, we’ll dive into the many sectors of healthcare and rehabilitation through the lens of providers nationwide. As they share their time and expertise with us, we hope to get a better understanding of the various populations we serve across settings and how we can best work as an interdisciplinary team.

Exploring Brain Injury Awareness – Through the Lens of Our Healthcare Partners

In the United States, there are more than 5.3 million individuals living with a permanent brain injury- related disability, and at least 2.8 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the U.S. each year.  Individuals between the ages of 15-19 and those over 65 are at the highest risk of sustaining a brain injury.    Brain Injury Awareness Month focuses on raising awareness and also advocating for this population.

Acquired brain injuries, in general, can be categorized into two types, traumatic and non-traumatic injuries.  According to the Brain Injury Association of America, a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is defined as an alteration in brain function, or other evidence of brain pathology, caused by an external force or trauma.  Non-traumatic injuries are caused by damage to the brain by internal factors such as lack of oxygen, exposure to toxins, strokes, tumors, etc.

To discuss brain injuries and their impact, we sat down with brain injury experts Catherine Rogers, PhD, Clinical Neuropsychologist, and Brandi Milford, Certified Case Manager and Catastrophic Rehabilitation Supplier.  Both passionate about this population, Catherine stated that increasing brain injury awareness is critical due to the high number of injuries that actually occur.   “I feel it is important to increase awareness of traumatic brain injury because people usually automatically think of strokes or brain tumors when referring to brain injury and do not understand how differently traumatic injuries versus non-traumatic injuries can present, or, how traumatic brain injuries sometimes require a different therapeutic approach compared to non-traumatic injuries,” stated Brandi.

Brain injuries can be unpredictable, and this makes the brain injury population very unique.  What appears to be a similar injury can present drastically different in individuals.  Additionally, while the life of the person sustaining the injury can be greatly impacted, brain injuries almost certainly will impact each and every relationship held by the individual who has sustained the injury as well, and this can be very challenging to manage.  Life roles, focus, routines, and communications often have to shift, and many times there are new personality traits, challenges and limitations that present themselves.  When asking Catherine her thoughts as a psychologist on the psychological impact of such disabilities, she stated, “As a psychologist, I believe there is nothing more interesting than human behavior and emotions.  I have always been interested in the brain/behavior link, as we really know so little about the brain.  What can be more fascinating than learning about ourselves?  Working with individuals with traumatic brain injury is rewarding because I can see first-hand how resilient both our minds and spirits can be.  It is gratifying to see patients improve and be there on the road to recovery with them.”

We steered the conversation towards healthcare professionals and families, and specifically those who have less experience with this particular population, and we came up with a few thoughts together:

  • It is important for individuals who are not familiar with brain injury to know that it can present as an “invisible” injury. We all can recognize an individual who has suffered a stroke, and consequently, has hemiplegia and speech difficulties as someone who has endured a brain injury.  In contrast, individuals with traumatic brain injury may ambulate and speak normally, with no clear outward signs of the injury.   For this reason, it is easy to attribute TBI-related behaviors to other motives.  For example, a provider may view someone with frontal lobe damage and limited ability to monitor their behaviors and impulses as simply aggressive or uncooperative.
  • Healthcare professionals should realize that the earlier rehabilitation is started, the better.
  • Due to the type of injury, brain injury rehabilitation usually requires a team approach with the client’s family/support system being a part of that team from the beginning depending on the severity of the injury.
  • Acquired brain injury rehabilitation is not going to be one-size fits all!
  • Be patient. Recovery can be slow and your loved one may be different.  Embrace the changes and continue to move forward with your new normal.
  • Remember that those with brain injuries are people first!

To learn more, visit the Brain Injury Association of America.

About the author:

Noell Gibson Cleveland, MA, CCC/SLP, RAC-CT, CCM
Director of Care Coordination

Noell began her tenure with Encore as a Regional Vice President of Operations in 2017 and currently serves as the Director of Care Coordination and lead of Encore’s Respiratory Therapy program. Her passion for helping others, in-depth understanding of care management, and patient/resident focus guided her to obtain her certification in case management in 2018. As a NASL 2022 Class of Emerging Leaders member and an active participant in NARA, Noell is also committed to advocacy and change in our industry. Noell strives to advocate for our employees and those we are privileged to serve in our industry.