Brain Injury Awareness

Brain Injury survivors are TOUGH!!  So are the people who support them.  March is Brain Injury Awareness month and it’s at this time that I frequently look back on my career as a Speech Pathologist in this field for over 30 years.  I started as a rehabilitation aid on the Brain Trauma Unit (BTU) while I was earning my bachelor’s degree.  The people that I was treating stole my heart and I returned to BTU each summer until I graduated.  Their levels of determination and motivation were amazing!  I was blessed to watch several people emerge from coma and begin to walk and talk.  I will never forget the day when a communication board was given to a young woman who had been in a coma for over a month.  She was unable to speak because of damage to her vocal cords but she spelled out “I love you” to her mom and dad; we all cried.  I watched people make so much progress but didn’t have a clear understanding of how much more work they had to do once they left the BTU and moved to the out-patient program called The Cognitive Rehabilitation Program (Cog Re).  I transitioned to a Cog-Re program while I earned my Master’s Degree and again was in awe of how persistent people were with their therapies and goals.  That’s not to say there weren’t days when people were angry, frustrated, depressed, or wanted to give up.  Some of the people I was working with had been participating in therapies for over 6 months!  That’s a long time to be patient and their anger and frustration was understandable.  Many times they commented to me on how hard my job was; I let them know that their job was harder.

I can honestly say I have learned something from each and every person I have ever treated.  No two people are alike and no two injuries are alike.  Two people may have injuries to the same area in their brains but their life experiences, support systems, beliefs, etc. will impact their response to the injury.  Brain Injury symptoms can be categorized as either physical, cognitive, and emotional/behavioral.  As a Speech Language Pathologist I address the cognitive and communication difficulties caused by the injury.  Some of these areas include attention, information processing, memory, word-finding, thought organization, problem-solving, reading and writing.  I find it very helpful to provide education regarding why the difficulties are happening and how they can be managed.  Knowledge is power…When someone sustains an injury and recognizes a change in their functioning, it’s scary.  Most of us take our brains for granted; we just expect them to work and can’t imagine what it means when they don’t.  A Brain Injury is known as an “Invisible Injury” because of many of the symptoms are not visible but that does not mean they do not exist.  It’s very frustrating when people express their difficulties and are met with statements like “What do you mean?  You look great.” or “Why aren’t you back to work yet?”  Education to both family members and friends is an important piece of the rehabilitation process and provided regularly.  This education also allows for a greater level of understanding as the recovery process continues.

Research is showing that our brains are not stagnant and that even as we age, new pathways and connections can be created; this process is called Neuroplasticity.  I have been incorporating this latest research into the therapy I provide.  It is important for people to understand that positive changes can take place long after their structured therapy sessions are complete.

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Brielle, NJ 08730
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