7 ‘hidden’ symptoms of a brain injury
Why is brain injury so misunderstood?
During Action for Brain Injury Week 2022, Headway highlighted the hidden issues people with brain injury face every day. Their campaign, ‘See The Hidden Me’, encouraged people to be kind and patient, and to consider whether certain behaviours could be misunderstood for the reason that brain injury is a ‘hidden disability’.
We have also recently explored the untold stories of brain injury, and understand through our work with a range of clients living with brain injury that there are common symptoms they all face every day. Here I wanted to share some of these issues, to help you see how specific behaviours may be because of this hidden disability.
Brain injury: the hidden symptoms
Every brain injury is different as the effect depends on what part of the brain was injured and the type of person they were before the injury. Here are seven symptoms you may not be aware of:
This is a very common symptom after a brain injury but relates to mental fatigue rather than physical fatigue. We have all had times where we feel we need to sit down and relax even though we have not been doing a tiring physical activity. This is often because our brain has been overworked and needs a rest. Following brain injury it is common to find simple tasks tiring to complete because greater concentration is needed.
Experiencing fatigue often makes other brain injury symptoms worse such as issues with concentration and memory. Many of our clients find coping strategies to deal with fatigue such as scheduling their time so they can take rest breaks during the day.
Many brain injury survivors report feeling like a new person after their injury. The change might be obvious, such as a lack of interest in something they were previously passionate about, or a new found love for a particular football team or animal. There can also be more serious changes such as a short temper or becoming disinterested.
Sometimes the brain injured person might be completely unaware of how their personality has changed or how the injury has affected them. This lack of insight can be particularly difficult for partners and family members to deal with.
These changes in personality, along with other issues can also create issues when people living with a brain injury interact with their friends, family and others in their social circle. This can unfortunately then lead to anxiety about social interaction. We have explored five problems brain injury can cause related to social interaction here.
Another issue that can impact upon a brain injured individual’s social life is dysarthria, or difficulty speaking. Sometimes people with a brain injury might slur their speech, causing members of the public who don’t know them to think they’re drunk.
There are small structures at the base of the brain responsible for regulating the body’s hormones. They are called the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus. Damage to these areas can lead to insufficient or increased release of one or more hormones. The hypothalamus regulates the pituitary gland and together they are vital in managing growth, hunger, thirst, puberty and sexual maturity, sexual functioning and libido, energy levels and weight.
Damage to this part of the brain can be particularly problematic for a child. For example, a child may have stunted growth or a young female can start menstruating early.
There are areas of our brains that stop us acting or saying inappropriate things. This is the frontal lobe and when this is damaged, things are said or done without forethought. Someone with a brain injury may appear to be rude or insensitive but it is the brain injury that has stopped them having the filter that the rest of us have.
There may be a loss of control over social behaviour, so that the person may behave in an over-familiar manner or may make sexual advances with the wrong people at the wrong time.
Disinhibition can, in extreme cases, lead those with a brain injury to become entangled in the criminal justice system. We have explored the untold stories of crime and brain injury here.
Sense of humour
Damage to the right side of the brain may lead the person to interpret verbal information very concretely. This means that a person with a brain injury is often unable to understand figures of speech including euphemism and hyperbole. They can take a phrase such as “break a leg” very literally.
The person with a brain injury may have a reduced ability to grasp humour or sarcasm and may miss the subtle nuances of conversation. This type of difficulty can result in the person taking things the wrong way and they may take good-natured teasing as genuine insults.
People who have experienced brain injury can often find busy or noisy environments difficult to handle, and even overwhelming, as they can become easily distracted.
This challenge can be particularly acute for young people living with brain injury, as we found when looking at the untold stories of early years and brain injury.
76% of brain injury survivors suffer daily with problems related to hidden symptoms
Headway, for their ‘See The Hidden Me’ campaign, produced a report into the common hidden symptoms experienced by people with a brain injury. Not only did they find that the majority of the over 2000 respondents experienced daily issues relating to their brain injury being hidden, but 55% felt they’d been unfairly treated as a direct consequence of it and 55% also felt their relationship with their spouse/partner had been negatively affected.
It is clear that there is much more that needs to be done to improve society’s understanding of brain injury. Improved understanding would not only work to ensure people are treated fairly by members of the public, but also so that people get the support and understanding they need from those closest to them should they experience an injury themselves.
Brain injury doesn’t always present itself in obvious ways, and often this causes difficulties for those who are trying to adjust to an entirely new way of being. Our hope is that with increased awareness through initiatives like Action for Brain Injury Week will help the general public understand further these ‘hidden issues’.
Our solicitors understand the intricacies of brain injuries and will listen, helping you to receive compensation. We can even provide information on how best to secure rehabilitation after a brain injury.
Memory loss and brain injury
Watch our film about memory loss and brain injury.
Released to coincide with Headway’s ‘Memory Loss: A Campaign To Remember’ campaign in 2020, our film follows the experience of Nick and others who have seen the effects of brain injury first-hand.