Is a traumatic brain injury a disability?

Suffering from a traumatic brain injury can be a life altering event. It may result from a road traffic accident, playing a sport, falling from a height or receiving a blow to the head. However it doesn’t matter how you received your injury, the most important thing is gaining your quality of life back. 

Typically brain injuries are placed into three categories depending on the severity of your injury. These categories are – 

  • Mild
  • Moderate 
  • Severe

You may be asking if your brain injury is classed as a disability? Well that all depends on the severity and long term implications of your injury. 

Someone who suffers from a mild concussion may be off work for a couple of weeks. They most likely will suffer from headaches, vision disturbances and dizziness. However in a short time frame they will more than likely be able to return back to work and life will continue on as normal with no long lasting effects. 

However when your injury is severe this can have a massive impact on every part of your life. You may find that you are not able to return to work for many months or even at all.

It very much depends on the severity of your brain injury as to whether you will be left with lasting disabilities.

How can a brain injury impact your life? 

Each patient with a traumatic brain injury will have different complications moving forward however common problems afterwards include – 

Physical Symptoms – If you have suffered from a severe brain injury you may be experiencing physical symptoms. 

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Problems with your balance
  • Loss of mobility
  • Loss of muscle strength, tone and control
  • Vision disturbances
  • Seizures
  • Bladder and bowel control
  • Sensory processing difficulties. Such as problems with loud noises and bright lights. 

Cognitive behaviour – This can include problems with –

  • Making decisions
  • Reasoning
  • Long term and short term memory loss
  • You may have issues with solving problems
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty making judgements. 

Language and communication – Problems with language and communication are common experiences with a brain injury.

  • Difficulty understanding spoken words
  • Slow speech
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor sentence formation
  • Word finding difficulty.
  • Stuttering

Post Concussion Syndrome – This can affect sufferers for months or even sometimes years after their injury. Symptoms can include dizziness, vertigo, headaches, sensitivity to lights and sounds, loss of memory, poor concentration and irritability. 

Mental Health – It is not uncommon after any traumatic experience to suffer from some problems with your mental health, especially if your whole life has changed in the blink of an eye. 

  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Anger
  • Confusion
  • Frustration

If you have suffered from a mild brain injury you may be lucky that after the initial injury has healed you will not be left with any lasting disabilities however people suffering from a moderate to severe injury are more likely to find that they are left with some form of disability although this may be mild.

There are two parts to a disability, 

  • Daily Living – This relates to how your daily life is affected and asks questions such as, can you prepare your own food? Can you make decisions for yourself? Do you need reminding to take your medication? 
  • Mobility – This section relates to how mobile you are. Can you get out and about by yourself or do you need help? Can you plan a journey and execute it? 

How is a disability diagnosed? 

In the immediate aftermath of your injury you will be given several tests. The results of these can give a detailed look at the damage to your brain and can give a good idea of your long term prognosis and which part of your brain is damaged.

Each part of the brain is responsible for different bodily functions. 

  • Frontal lobe – Speaking, emotions, personality and judgement. 
  • Temporal lobe – Memory, understanding spoken words and hearing.
  • Parietal lobe – Each of the five senses.
  • Occipital lobe – Vision and visuospatial coordination. 
  • Brain stem – Breathing, heart rate and sleeping cycles.
  • Computerised Tomography (CT Scan) – This will show any bleeds on the brain, bruised tissue and any other damage. 
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – This is a more detailed image than a CT scan using magnets and Radio Waves. 

There are also evaluations that you will undergo.

These include – 

  • A speech and language evaluation with a speech-language pathologist. They will assess the strength and coordination of the muscles that control your speech, your understanding of grammar and vocabulary and also your reading and writing. Using formal tests and role playing they will also assess your social and communication skills. 
  • Cognitive and neuropsychological tests. These will assess your cognitive capabilities. They will look at your language, behavioural, motor and executive functions. 

As you can see it very much depends on the severity of your brain injury as to whether you will be left with lasting disabilities. Thanks to the advances in medicine and the testing and evaluations that are now available doctors now know much more about the complex but fascinating brain and this goes a long way to being able to predict your long term prognosis. 

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