There’s been much in the media about brain injuries, including symptoms that injured athletes and military veterans experience. But what actually happens to the brain after a traumatic injury? How is that injury likely to affect not only the patient, but the caregivers who see dramatic changes in their loved ones’ personalities and behavior?
These are just a few of the questions that doctors Vani Rao and Sandeep Vaishnavi address in a reliable fashion in The Traumatized Brain: A Family Guide to Understanding Mood, Memory, and Behavior after Brain Injury.
I have had some unique experiences with brain trauma, the most significant being when I cared for a family member who suffered from brain tumors and who almost died as a result of brain swelling. I remember the fear I felt when this family member was sent home to my care, her personality already altered. Although Rao and Vaishnavi deal specifically with brain injury, as opposed to a progressive disease, I related to many sections of the book.
Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, can result from damage to any area of the brain — and each area carries with it its own unique symptoms. The authors begin with an informative synopsis, setting the reader up to better understand changes in the patient after TBI. The rest of the book is divided by type of symptom, including emotional, behavioral, and cognitive. Each chapter gives a basic description of a problem — things like aggression, depression, and language difficulty. The authors provide tips for how to deal with each problem, along with suggested resources (including medications, where appropriate).
The book provides valuable take-home points. Patients who experienced episodes of depression and anxiety before TBI, the authors write, or who previously exhibited aggressive or impulsive behavior, will likely see these problems exacerbated by a brain injury. And patients who re-injure themselves will inhibit their chances of recovery, as will those who abuse medication or drink alcohol.
The most important point, to me, was that although depression is common after TBI, it is by no means a “normal” condition. In fact, the books explains, it should be immediately addressed by a medical professional.
As a society, we tend to shrug our shoulders and accept that of course brain-injured patients (particularly former soldiers) are going to be depressed; after all, we say, look at their experiences. However, Rao and Vaishnavi write, such complacence leads to unnecessary suffering for the patient and their loved ones. They stress that caregivers are in a position to intercede and help patients navigate these negative symptoms — that caregivers should should not assume their hands are tied.
There are many things that can go wrong with the brain, and the authors review a broad range. The case studies are clear, if not in-depth. And while reading the book from beginning to end might be tedious if you’re looking for advice on specific symptoms, the book is so well-organized that you can quickly find the section you need.
Readers may want to look elsewhere for deeper coverage of particular issues. Still, if I were back in the position of a frightened, unprepared caregiver for a family member who had suffered brain injuries, I would be grateful for this book as a starting point.
The Traumatized Brain: A Family Guide to Understanding Mood, Memory, and Behavior after Brain Injury
Johns Hopkins University Press, September 2015
Paperback, 224 pages