Brain Injury Myths: Know the Facts

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Neurological research is a fast-moving field that is continuously evolving and advancing. The internet is full of information about brain injuries, but much of it may be outdated or disproven because the science changes so rapidly.

It is difficult to keep up with the latest research, so Memorial Hermann Mischer Neurosciences wants to give you facts and dispel some of the most common myths about brain injury.

MYTH #1: Concussion is not a serious injury.
Concussion is a form of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). It is more than just a bump on the head; a concussion is an injury to the brain that needs medical attention. Sustaining a blow to the head (even if it doesn’t seem serious) should never be ignored.

Because they are rarely life-threatening, concussions are described as a type of “mild” brain injury. But, it is important to remember that any injury to the brain can be serious. Most people fully recover from a concussion after about two weeks, but some patients will continue to have symptoms for the rest of their lives.

MYTH #2: A person who has sustained a concussion should be awakened every hour for the first day following injury.
Sleep is essential for recovery from brain injury, and it is not necessary to keep someone awake for 24 hours after a concussion. A medical evaluation is needed to assess the degree of injury. If a medical professional has determined there is no bleeding in the brain or acute trauma, the patient should sleep restfully to assist in their recovery.

MYTH #3: Concussions are always sports related; only athletes get concussions.
Anyone can sustain a concussion. TBI, including concussion, can occur anywhere, at any time, to all types of people. Concussions can result from many types of events, including: motor vehicle crashes, falls, blast injuries, domestic violence, abuse, gunshot wounds or other physical trauma.

MYTH #4: Each part of the brain has a specific response to injury. If you know which part has been injured, you will know what challenges to expect.
Each brain injury, and the patient’s response, is unique. Knowing the specific location of the brain injury may provide some clues of the problems to expect, but each person’s path forward will be different. A medical evaluation is necessary to determine whether the damage includes brain tissue beyond the injury site.

MYTH #5: CT and MRI scans can detect all types of brain injuries.
CT and MRI scans identify acute trauma, such as skull fractures or brain bleeds. Some brain injuries, including concussions, will not always appear on these scans. A clear CT or MRI scan does not eliminate the possibility of a brain injury, and additional testing may be necessary.

MYTH #6: Until you have recovered from a brain injury, you should avoid any stimulation that may trigger symptoms.
At one time, the standard of care was to keep brain-injury patients in dark, quiet rooms to avoid any stimulation to the brain. Today, research suggests this is not an effective recovery method and may actually worsen symptoms. Some experts now suggest that light activity soon after sustaining a concussion may be beneficial. Each patient is unique, and you should always consult your physician about the best recovery plan.

MYTH #7: Brain injury changes a person’s basic emotional needs.
Primary emotional needs do not change because of brain injury. Basic needs, including the need to feel loved, to feel useful, to be treated respectfully and to have control over their own lives, are the same for all people, regardless of injury.

MYTH #8: It is helpful and encouraging to assure a brain-injury victim that life will return to normal.
Brain-injury outcomes vary, and it is generally not helpful to promise someone their life will be exactly like it was before the injury. The recovery details may not be immediately known at the time the injury occurs. Most likely, it will take additional time to fully understand the severity and the specific path forward. Many brain-injury patients must adapt to a “new normal.”

MYTH #9: All recovery is made within the first 2 years after brain injury. After that, further recovery is not possible.
Additional recovery is often possible, even many years after injury. While it is true that the first 9 months of recovery can be crucial to determining the long-term effects of brain injury, the type of therapy used is the best predictor of recovery. It is important to work with your physician to determine the most effective therapy options for your specific symptoms.

MYTH #10: Thoughts of suicide are not common among brain-injury patients.
The risk of suicide among brain-injury patients is higher than the risk for the general population. Almost 20 percent of brain-injury survivors experience thoughts of suicide, or may attempt to take their own lives, during the first 5 years after injury.

Changes in the brain and in general lifestyle following a brain injury may increase the risk of suicide. Families and healthcare providers need to speak openly about this risk with brain-injury patients. These are difficult conversations, but may help save a life. Help and additional resources are available by calling the suicide hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255.

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