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Finding Hope and Healing from Traumatic Brain Injuries

A series on Mental Wellness

Imagine continually hearing ringing in your ears, feeling there’s an earthquake every few hours due to vertigo, not remembering where you parked your car the night before, and feeling unable to control emotions. These are examples of how mild Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) might affect someone. They can deprive patients of their self-sufficiency and joie de vivre.

The World Health Organization estimates that TBI will become the third most common cause of global disability and mortality in the next few years. Approximately 5.3 million Americans currently live with a TBI related disability. The leading causes of TBI include falls, violence and motor vehicle accidents. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and are highly varied among patients.

The ‘old school’ of thought among physicians was that people who incurred Traumatic Brain Injuries would not see any meaningful recovery past the one to two year mark following the incident. New research on the brain’s ability to create new connections (neuroplasticity) and remarkable patient experiences from recovery with personalized training programs are beginning to overturn this school of thought.

Healing often involves addressing the physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual dimensions of self. Recovering from a Traumatic Brain Injury is a process. Those in this circumstance need all the support that they can get.

Online brain training platforms can help support emotional and cognitive growth. Of particular interest to those healing from TBI are emotion regulation exercises, memory training practice, executive functioning games, and stress reduction techniques.

Here is how emotion regulation, memory, executive functioning and stress reduction tools can help:

  1. Emotional whirlwinds can ensue from any kind of trauma, and are particularly prevalent among those affected by TBI. Intense irritability, anxiety and depression reflect a few of the mood changes that may occur. Engaging in emotion regulation exercises can assist TBI patients in deconstructing negative thought patterns and seeding positive ones in their place. Adjunctive online tools can help train people to pivot from emotions like anger, to equanimity.

           More seriously injured TBI patients may also experience changes in their abilities to               recognize emotions. Reading facial expressions becomes akin to trying to read in an              unfamiliar language. Online facial recognition training has been shown to help                    sharpen this important social capacity.

         2. TBI patients often suffer from short-term memory deficiencies. Memory practice                  can help individuals make new neural connections. It’s a little bit like relearning the              route to an old friend’s house. Participants can do exercises that match pictures or                fun mazes that rely on remembering information. These practices expand memory              and boost concentration and problem solving skills. A recent study indicates that                computerized working memory training may offer benefits (and some relief)                  for those enduring fatigue caused by a TBI.

            3. Computerized cognitive training to help rehabilitate executive functioning                  has shown promising early results, particularly within children. Training in this              area facilitates judicious planning and decision making. These skills are                          essential to many facets of everyday life, including maintaining a budget,                        packing a briefcase, purse, or backpack, and preparing dinner. Performing                      tasks in a planned, step-by-step way translates to less stress, and greater                         quality  of life.

            4. Compared to injured individuals without TBI, those with TBI may be at                        higher risk of poor psychological adjustment after injury, largely due to stress.             High levels of stress are generally known to induce other unfavorable health                  trends, such as high blood pressure, or elevated heart rate. A mindfulness-                    based stress reduction program was first developed in collaboration with the                 University of Massachusetts Medical Center, and has shown efficacy in                         helping  to relieve pain, and in reducing stress.

Progress is achieved through incremental daily steps. Brain training platforms provide TBI survivors the opportunity to develop skills that help them move forward. Continuous practice not only builds emotional and cognitive skills, but can also bring about personal growth. It can empower patients to regain control over their lives, nudging people into feeling more like themselves. 

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