March is Brain Injury Awareness month, so this is the perfect time to talk about brain injury, also known as the “invisible illness.” Public awareness of brain injury, specifically concussions, seems to be increasing. There is always something on the news about professional athletes who suffer concussions. Over the past few years, I have become more interested in brain injury and the devastating effects it causes. I have seen patients struggle because on the outside they look “normal,” but under the surface they are far from it. They often struggle completing simple tasks that used to be easy. As a speech language pathologist, I have the opportunity to work with patients experiencing communicative, cognitive, and swallowing problems following a brain injury. These patients can have problems with memory, attention, reading, writing, speaking, and swallowing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 1.7 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury annually. TBI is a contributing factor to a third of all injury related deaths in the United States and about 75% of TBIs that occur each year are concussions or other forms of mild traumatic brain injury. Falls are the leading cause of TBI rates in children 0-4 years of age and adults 75 and older.
As awareness of concussion increases, so does the realization of the importance of intervention, whether it is medical, educational, or rehabilitation. As a speech pathologist, I have worked in acute care, short and long term rehabilitation, outpatient, and home health. Most recently, I have worked for Next Step Therapy providing outpatient and home based speech therapy. I have recently become a certified brain injury specialist and am a member of the local BrainSTEPS team which is Pennsylvania’s Brain Injury School Re-Entry Consulting Program Team. This team is jointly funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education via the PaTTAN network.
With the increased awareness of the effects of concussion, I realized the need for post-concussion rehab in our area and started a post-concussion rehab program to assist patients experiencing cognitive deficits following a concussion. Not only can speech therapy “exercise the brain,” but a speech therapist can teach compensatory strategies to make day to day living more manageable. We have incorporated the use of the Brain Train program (Judith Falconer, PH.D.). This is a computer based cognitive retraining program that targets deficient areas identified during a cognitive evaluation.
Brain injury can be a very serious and detrimental problem; however, with the appropriate intervention a patient can once again begin to feel “normal.”