Traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when an external force suddenly damages the brain. A TBI may result when an object forcefully strikes the head, the head forcefully strikes an object, or an object penetrates the skull. TBI severity ranges between mild, moderate, and severe, and depends on the severity of damage to the brain.
Millions of people suffer a TBI annually. Three-quarters of these will result in concussion, making this the most common form of TBI. Concussions are also referred to as mild traumatic brain injuries or mTBI. The term “mild” does not refer to the severity of symptoms, but rather the original physical trauma.
A patient with mTBI may lose consciousness at the time of injury. But mTBI is considered by the presence of one or more of the following symptoms:
- Dilated pupils
- Focal neurological deficits (loss of coordination)
- Change in mental status (fatigue, agitation, confusion, etc.)
- Dizziness following the injury
- Memory loss
- Loss of consciousness
Recovery from a concussion can be sporadic and is not always quick. Some patients suffer from PCS (post-concussive syndrome) which are long-term impairments. This impairment can demonstrate significant alterations in cognition and personality.
Communication and Cognitive Impairments
Communication and cognitive impairments following a concussion may include difficulties with:
- Information processing
- Social communication
Executive functioning skills may also be affected, like:
- Monitoring and inhibiting behaviour and emotions
- Completing tasks
- Time management
- Planning and organizing
Therapy and Treatment Approaches
Speech therapists are trained and have experience in evaluating and treating cognitive and communicative symptoms associated with a concussion. First, the speech therapist will complete an evaluation of language and speech, communication and cognitive skills, and social communications skills.
Next, the speech therapist will design a treatment regimen and provide strategies to focus on individual deficits. Individualized, one on one therapy is the most effective treatment approach to attain best results. Treatment plans may include:
- Metacognitive approaches
- Process-specific training
- Skill training
- Behavioural approaches
The stage of recovery and the severity of symptoms determine which treatment approaches will be most appropriate. But the person’s ability to perform regular life functions independently is the primary focus of all treatment.
If you or a family member suffer from one or more of the following symptoms after a head trauma, speech-language therapy might be right for you:
- Difficulty eating or swallowing liquids or foods
- Decrease in executive functioning skills like mental flexibility, time management, prioritizing, organizing, sequencing, self-regulations, or initiating and completing tasks
- Decreased information processing skills, or increased information processing time
- Decrease in memory function
- Inability or difficulty paying attention, or staying on-task
- Difficulty carrying on conversations
- Difficulty understanding the intricacies of language like body language, gestures, facial expressions or using or identifying emotions
- Trouble with using or understanding written or spoken language
- Experiencing aprosodia, the inability to understand or use the affective aspects of speech
- Difficulty using or understanding the intonation, fluctuations, and inflections of speech
- Difficulty producing speech sounds correctly