Traumatic Brain Injury and Seizure Disorders: A Basic Understanding

Traumatic Brain Injury and Seizure Disorders: A Basic Understanding Posted March 12, 2014 | By csponline

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can occur at any time in life and may lead to epilepsy and difficulty adjusting to the necessities of daily living. This can present a host of new challenges for individuals and families who are not accustomed to managing a disability. Mental health challenges can often become a greater concern in these individuals’ lives, and it is important to provide resources for the patient and relatives to help them cope with these sudden demands.

A TBI does not always lead to epilepsy, but it is more likely that epilepsy can be present if the brain damage is more severe. Adults with TBI and epilepsy may experience problems with maintaining employment, and may find it impossible to return to their old jobs and previous way of life. Securing social services for these adults is paramount, especially if the person is a parent. The combination of a TBI and epilepsy can result in increased behavioral, cognitive and emotional problems. It is imperative for criminal justice and mental health professionals to receive adequate education and training to ensure that patients fully understand their disability, to help individuals improve their overall quality of life, and to help individuals and families obtain services and care that can best support their unique challenges.

Because both of these diagnoses are often labeled “invisible,” individuals can be viewed to have negative personality traits or be seen as aggressive or inappropriate—when truly they are working against symptoms that can make it difficult to function in daily living environments. By understanding that the frustrations and anxiety that they are feeling is part of their brain function, individuals can begin to open the door to treatment that can greatly improve their day-to-day functioning. Along with an individual learning to cope with some of the symptoms that they are dealing with, open communication with both family and employers can assist everyone in understanding the triggers that can create difficult situations while living with a TBI and epilepsy.

It may be difficult to pinpoint all of the areas that can be affected by these diagnoses: Cognition, memory, behavior as well as social and emotional changes can occur, which can change the way a person deals with normal daily events. Some of the changes that may be noted include increased reactions to upsetting situations, difficulty reading or interpreting others’ feelings, poor recall of information or the inability to learn from prior experiences, and inappropriate behaviors related to social situations. Although not all of these reactions can be controlled or modified, understanding why they occur and how they can be alleviated or minimized can greatly improve the quality of life both at home and at work for someone suffering from TBI and epilepsy.

Individuals living and working at home are not the only people who experience complicated factors with these diagnoses; proper care for veterans is also a growing concern. There is often a whirlpool of factors that can make life extremely difficult for veterans returning with combat-related TBIs and epilepsy. These individuals, in addition to the challenges of readjusting to civilian life and life with a disability, may also experience mental health issues such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can be aggravated by the TBI. Understanding the wide-reaching symptoms and difficulties that can occur with both TBI and epilepsy can greatly impact the success of the transition back to civilian life. By understanding that TBI and epilepsy may initially go undiagnosed, it is important that appropriate medical care be provided when symptoms that are not typical of the individual become apparent. This will ensure a more successful result during their time of transition. Some TBIs can directly cause certain personality changes that can alienate family members and support. Since these symptoms can also make employment difficult, many sufferers wind up in a downward spiral of frustration and have a feeling of worthlessness. Work can become more challenging as seizures worsen from the TBI. Furthermore, the person may not be able to afford medication or regular care, which can cause the epilepsy to worsen. The perceived stigma of seeking mental health care may also be particularly damaging to service members. Instead of seeking treatment for what can be a medical problem, they may turn to alcohol, drugs, or other forms of harmful and self-destructive behaviors to cope. This approach can worsen the TBI and epilepsy and can then present a host of new challenges, including the potential for criminal behavior and arrests. Thus, it is important to intervene early and maintain medical awareness of returning veterans and other members of the community impacted by TBI and epilepsy whenever possible. About the Authors

Jerrod Brown, MA, MS, MS, MS is the Treatment Director for Pathways Counseling Center, Inc. Pathways’ focus is to provide programs and services that benefit individuals impacted by mental illness and addiction. Jerrod is the founder and CEO of the American Institute for the Advancement of Forensic Studies (AIAFS). Additional research interests include autism, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, forensic aspects of sleep disorders and serial killers.

Lisabeth Mackall, M.S.CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist who has 19 years of experience treating adults and children with neurological impairments. She has managed multiple rehab teams throughout Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and has developed many training tools used to educate physical, occupational and speech therapists. Lisabeth’s husband, Officer Frank Mackall of the Savage Police Department, was critically injured on duty in January 2012. She is now an educator for both the law enforcement and health care fields in trauma and brain injury. Lisabeth is also a published author; her book “27 Miles: The Tank’s Journey Home” follows her through the 84 days following her husband’s crash and hospital stay.

Erv Weinkauf, MA, is a retired 40-year law enforcement veteran who also has 19 years teaching experience. He currently serves as Criminal Justice Department Chair at Concordia University, St. Paul.