militraryfamilimiliBy: David Lee Sexton, Jr.
Not Just a Problem on the Football Field
According to Knock (2017), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) refers to an injury in which something impacts an individual’s head, which many may not inherently recognize as what is commonly known as a concussion. The difference in nomenclature between these two synonymous words may lead some to perceive a concussion as something far less serious than a TBI. However, Knock clarifies that a concussion is a TBI, and there are varying grades of TBI ranging from Grade One to Grade Three. Furthermore, 80% of TBI are considered Grade One, or mild, yet even a mild TBI can result in chronic problems. Interestingly, Knock points out that TBIs can manifest vastly different symptoms depending on the part of the brain which sustains the brunt of the impact.
This phenomenon has been brought to public attention recently through the film, Concussion, which examines the discovery of the relationship between TBI and mental health problems in professional football players. However, athletes are not the only ones prone to a higher risk of sustaining TBI, as combat veterans are also at higher risk due to injuries, such as blast injuries that affect the brain through tearing of the axons at a microscopic level (Knock, 2017). These types of injuries are even more sinister, as they are often not detectable through common brain scanning measures, such as MRI (Knock, 2017).
Loss of Identity
In a brief anecdote, Knock (2017) demonstrates the insidiousness of TBI by relaying the story of one veteran’s struggle to accomplish something many of us take for granted: packing a lunch. After being caught in an IED, she suffered damage to her parietal lobe. This resulted in disturbances with her visual and spatial reasoning that made her unable to even select the right size container to hold a packed lunch. With the added struggle of completing tasks that were once effortless, it can be difficult to maintain a sense of self, which leaves one vulnerable to further struggles with chronic depression as new limitations are being discovered.
Impact on Families
Some of the most profound limitations TBI can impose on an individual will be family-related. Depending on severity, TBI can change familial roles so drastically that one individual’s spouse may become a caregiver in an instant (Knock, 2017). In this case, feelings of loss and frustration will likely affect both individuals. Knock (2017) provides an example of how drastically family dynamic can change through the act of caring for children. After suffering a TBI, a parent may no longer be able to safely watch over his or her children, due to potential memory or attention problems. This not only represents an enormous loss for the parent suffering the TBI but may cause additional strain for his or her partner due to the new responsibility of caring for both children and spouse. Again, this brings to light the impact TBI can have on things that people often take for granted, and demonstrates the influence something like a “bump on the head” can have on a person’s life and well-being.
Want to Learn More?
To learn more about Traumatic Brain Injury and its effects on families, please take some time to watch the MFLN Family Development Team’s free, archived webinar presented by Heidi Knock, Psy.D., Staff Psychologist at Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. Dr. Knock provides individual, marital, and group psychotherapy to Veterans and their families. She also treats individuals on the polytrauma unit and the inpatient rehabilitation unit who have a combination of complex mental and physical health issues, such as Traumatic Brain Injury, chronic pain, amputation, and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Knock, H. (2017). Gray Matters: Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury’s impact on families. MFLN Family Development. Retrieved from: https://learn.extension.org/events/3020.
This post was written by a member of the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development team on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.