I am a 19-year survivor of traumatic brain injury. While I have made improvements not many expected, I have dedicated myself to learn what I could about brain injury and anything related to it. Hopefully, I can help others going through their issues/challenges. For example, I went to my first brain injury educational conference sponsored by The Brain Injury Association of Illinois in the fall of 2003 (my accident was in the spring). This conference provided me with a lot of information about what survivors face. I also wanted to know about therapies or techniques in rehab that might give me a leg up on other survivors. I also looked up and researched everything that I heard about in rehab, so I could challenge anything or anyone I thought was trying to mislead me.
I do not believe you will ever hear me say that I am on the other side of this injury. That’s because I know the saga continues and I will always be challenged by brain injury. Maybe not in the way it challenged me in my first five years, but in other ways where I am trying to understand why.
I have learned that in order to get the best during your recovery, one must push themselves mentally and physically. Physically, I remember in rehab watching my fellow survivors and our differences. Because I saw other survivors walk, and because I knew I was not special, I figured I should be able to walk too! Because I had that mind-set I was determined and worked hard to walk again. Have you wondered why if two survivors had brain injury, one traveled by wheelchair and the other could walk? Then mentally, why survivors do not deal with pain or experience spasticity, but their short-term memory is non-existent? For example, in Speech therapy group, we would play basic memory games, and it would hurt me to see other survivors struggle with things I felt were elementary. I guess we each have our OWN struggles!
Brain Injury is crazy! Just when you think you’ve mastered a task, you forget how to perform the activity and you’re back to square one! During my rehab, I felt like I went back to square one a number of times when it came to eating, swallowing, walking, scratching my back (with my left hand), and typing.
But I will share that I have learned to be a sponge and soak up as much information as I can. If I did not understand something, I am going to ask that you explain it to me. If you were performing a movement that did not make me feel comfortable, I may ask for understanding as I ask you to how to do it.
Recently, I read an article from the Alzheimer’s Association called “Studies link education to reduced risk of Alzheimer’s”. In this article they inform us that there is evidence to show that formal education (high school and college) may reduce a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s. They also mention “The Lancet Commission that examined dementia interventions found 7% of worldwide dementia cases could be prevented by increasing early-life education.
The Lancet Commission that examined dementia interventions found 7% of worldwide dementia cases could be prevented by increasing early-life education. “
Medical professionals believe that the intense, structured learning from formal education could increase the “cognitive reserve” which is the brain’s ability to handle change. This means that the more we work this muscle (the brain), the stronger it gets. Does that mean survivors who have graduated college pre-injury are in a better place than high school graduates? I can’t say I have researched that, but it might be good experiment to review.
I also believe that if the brain can be stimulated, it will respond! If you have heard about the most brain injury recovery is in the first 3-6 months and then not much improvement after 18 months. Well… In my personal experience, I can tell you that is a bunch of mess because I have made improvements even after year 15 of my injury!
I am not aware of the statistics of all survivors, but I’m sure the statistic wasn’t just created, so I wondered how many survivors gained degrees or acquired additional skill sets post-injury? For me, earning my master’s degree, Microsoft Certification, and even CDL was a huge accomplishment because I did not have these prior to my injury! I guess that means that I am still able to learn, get better, and even teach others what I learned. This was a big boost for me and empowered me to want to go back to work. But I will share that having the tag of ‘brain injured’ is not always a good thing. I believe people automatically see it as a shortcoming when it should be looked at as if you have a detour sign on ‘the roadway to your brain. By this I mean that your brain still works, but the way it receives and interprets information may be different than others, but we still can learn! This may be the only reason for talking to HR about your injury in the beginning of your employment. I am not saying it will help, but it will not hurt you.
Keep pushing survivors!! I will always have your backs!!