Co-authored with Ted Stachulski
The conversation and realization.
It started like any other conversation. A friend, chit-chatting away, mentions her child athlete has instant rages, mood swings, inability to complete the work he has to do and impulsiveness. Both she and her husband are totally frustrated as to what to do and don’t know where to turn for help.
I’m part of the GMP Disposability of Men SIG and we are involved with saving the lives of athletes, and improving the quality of life for those with CTE and TBI. The symptoms are all too familiar. So, I asked, “Does he play football?”
She replied, “He plays football, baseball, soccer, and even tried hockey. He’s a natural athlete and we support him.”
I said, “Wow. Impressive. Has he ever had a concussion.”
“Yes. He’s had several concussions so far.”
I printed out a list of symptoms for CTE and TBI and showed it to her. “Check off his symptoms.”
She looked at the list and checked off more symptoms than not. It’s clear the young man is in trouble. He’s stuck in a place where he knows cognitively his brain isn’t functioning properly; behaviorally he’s hurt people who care about him and self-medicating to deal with the emotional and physical pain. He needs to be shown the healthy way out of this downward cycle which has been perpetuated by STIGMA – a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
High expectations have been placed upon him by himself and others and now things are falling apart and people are worried about him.
She looked up, tears in her eyes. “They’re all here. What do I do?”
What’s a concussion?
According to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a concussion is a type of Traumatic Brain Injury—or TBI—caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells.
Repetitive sub-concussive hits, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), create a similar outcome. It’s like riding in a car and hitting a wall at 30 m.p.h., walking away and then doing it over and over again.
Concussions Are Serious!
Medical providers may describe a concussion as a “mild” brain injury because concussions are usually not life-threatening. Even so, the effects of a concussion can be serious.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major cause of death and disability in the United States. Effects of TBI can include impaired thinking or memory, movement, sensation (e.g., vision or hearing,) or emotional functioning (e.g., personality changes, and depression.) These issues not only affect individuals but can have lasting effects on families and communities.
What is CTE?
According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma. Brain trauma can cause a build-up of an abnormal type of a protein called tau, which slowly kills brain cells. Once started, these changes in the brain appear to continue to progress even after exposure to brain trauma has ended.
What do you do once you’ve identified the problem?
I called my friend Ted Stachulski, TBI Survivor and Peer Outreach Specialist, to find out what steps parents need to take if they feel their child might be suffering from a concussion and/or long-lasting concussion symptoms.
He offered guidance on how to get a medical evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, and support for a concussion/Traumatic Brain Injury:
- Everyone should report all concussion symptoms to a parent, doctor, nurse, coach, athletic trainer, teacher, etc. Teammates/Peers should immediately report any concussion symptoms exhibited by a friend.
- Follow school Return to Play and Return to Learn protocols to prevent further injury. 8 States currently have Return to Learn Laws while many schools across the US have developed RTL programs on their own. The majority of concussion symptoms last only a few weeks.
- If concussion symptoms have persisted for several months, ask the Child’s Primary Care Physician for a referral to a local Concussion Clinic or TBI Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center for further evaluation and treatment. If available, provide the test results from the pre-sport season baseline testing for comparison.
- Call your local Brain Injury Association and ask for the name of the best neuropsychologist for a neuropsychological evaluation and make an appointment.
- Also, get the name of a good physiatrist, which is a medical doctor with specialized training in physical medicine, rehabilitation, and pain medicine. They treat a wide variety of medical conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons.
- Life after a brain injury can be overwhelming for both the survivor and family members. A doctor may recommend counseling or psychotherapy to address cognitive and behavioral problems.
- Having thoughts of suicide? Please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255, available 24 hours every day.
- Get help for alcohol and substance abuse problems.
- Turn to Holistic methods for Mindfulness, Behavior Modification and Pain Management: Meditation, Yoga, Chiropractic Care, Acupuncture, CranioSacral Therapy and Deep Tissue Massage – to name a few.
- Peer Support: Unfortunately, Brain Injury Survivors lose most of their friends and family support after their injury because it’s an invisible injury most people don’t understand. Fortunately, Brain Injury Survivor and Caregiver Support Groups are provided by State Brain Injury Associations. For online support check out TBI Hope and Inspiration with David Grant. It is a connection to the brain injury community.
- To learn more about Traumatic Brain Injury and the recovery process download the Traumatic Brain Injury Survival Guide by Dr. Glen Johnson.
- Read Ted’s articles about his Sports Concussions and Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation.
- Share with others what you learned through your TBI Journey and support the programs that provided you and your family with support. Brain Injury Associations have annual fundraisers such as the Walk for Thought and annual conferences for TBI Survivors, Caregivers and Professionals that you and your family members can participate in.
The symptoms of CTE and TBI can be managed. It takes a community to provide the support. With help, those who battle CTE and TBI can and do lead productive lives.
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