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The brain is made of neurons (nerve cells). The neurons form tracts that route throughout the brain. These nerve tracts carry messages to various parts of the brain. The brain uses these messages to perform functions. The functions include coordinating our body’s systems, such as breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and metabolism; thought processing; body movements; personality; behavior; and the senses, such as vision, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Each part of the brain serves a specific function and links with other parts of the brain to form more complex functions.
When a brain injury occurs, the functions of the neurons, nerve tracts, or sections of the brain can be affected. If the neurons and nerve tracts are affected, they can be unable or have difficulty carrying the messages that tell the brain what to do.
The brain is a very sensitive organ subject to injury from various occurrences. Brain injuries are typically defined as either a traumatic brain injury or an acquired brain injury.
Traumatic Brain Injury: Traumatic brain injury is sudden, non-congenital physical damage to the brain from an external force that temporarily or permanently disrupts normal brain function. Examples of causes of traumatic brain injuries include motor vehicle accidents, sports-related injuries, assault, falls, etc.
Acquired Brain Injury: Acquired brain injuries are typically considered any injury that is non-traumatic, not hereditary, congenital, degenerative or induced by birth trauma. Examples of an acquired brain injury include stroke, near drowning, hypoxic or anoxic brain injury, tumor, neurotoxins, electric shock or lightening strike.
Also, any injury to the head must be classified as either a closed head injury or open head injury.
Closed Head Injury: A closed head injury is any injury to the head that does not penetrate the skull
Open Head Injury: Occurs when an object such as a bullet, backed by strong force, fractures the skull and damages brain tissue or the surrounding membranes.
Emergency personnel typically determine the severity of a brain injury by using an assessment called the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). Based on the GCS, the brain injury will be termed as a Mild, Moderate or Severe Brain Injury to describe the level of initial injury in relation to the neurological severity caused to the brain.
The scale comprises three tests: eye, verbal and motor responses. The three values separately, as well as their sum, are considered. The lowest possible GCS (the sum) is 3 (deep coma or death), while the highest is 15 (fully awake person). A GCS score of 13-15 is considered a "mild" injury; a score of 9-12 is considered a moderate injury; and 8 or below is considered a severe brain injury.
Mild Brain Injury (GCS Score 13-15): The term “mild” is used in reference to the severity of the initial physical trauma that caused the injury. It does not indicate the severity of the consequences of the injury. People with mild traumatic brain injury can have a normal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or electroencephalogram (EEG) neurological test. As these test results are often "normal" and mild brain injury victims often do not show urgent medical symptoms, mild brain injury is underreported and undertreated. Keep in mind that there is nothing “Mild” about a brain injury—any injury to the brain is a real and serious medical condition.
Moderate Brain Injury (GCS Score 8-12): A moderate TBI occurs when there is a loss of consciousness that lasts from a few minutes to a few hours, when confusion lasts from days to weeks, or when physical, cognitive, and/or behavioral impairments last for months or are permanent. Persons with moderate TBI generally can make a good recovery with treatment and successfully learn to compensate for their deficits.
Severe Brain Injury (GCS Score below 8): Severe brain injury occurs when a prolonged unconscious state or coma lasts days, weeks, or months. For many people with severe TBI, long-term rehabilitation is often necessary to maximize function and independence.
Additional Possible Effects of Brain Injuries Brain damage is one of the most difficult injuries in which to adjust. All other kinds of injuries except the debilitating ones are either treatable, or can be managed. When it comes to brain injuries it is not so easy. There are a number of ways in which a survivor may be affected:
• Loss of memory
• Mobility impairment
• Behavioral changes
• Visual impairments
• Speech impediments
This very question is the reason the Injury Co-op exists. Questions that arise during various stages following a brain injury will be discussed. The most important thing to remember is that being proactive for yourself or your loved one following a catastrophic injury is the first step in taking back control of an out-of-control situation.