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When Neurology and Psychology Intersect

Traumatic Brain Injuries - NeurologyIt’s no secret that the brain, and all matters pertaining to it, is complicated. After all, it is essentially a gooey supercomputer powering these containers we call bodies. We still don’t understand every single facet of how the brain works – and just the implications of that sentence are enough to give you an ironic headache.

One of the trickiest, most complicated parts of the brain is how one symptom can apply to multiple diagnoses at once. In fact, multiple symptoms will do this, making it nearly impossible for some to differentiate all the possible causes and therefore, the treatments. Even doctors aren’t immune to this. The brain is an intricate, constantly changing system that can mimic physical injury as well as it can help it heal, so how do you tell the difference? And why is doing so, so important?

Traumatic brain injuries mimic mental disorders

Like everything else brain related, traumatic brain injuries are incredibly complex. Brain damage looks different in almost every person, depending on the severity, the location of the injury, the causes behind it, and even the speed in which the patient received treatment. The problem is once any physical wounds have healed, traumatic brain injuries can be almost identical to mental illnesses.

For example, here are some common personality changes brought on by TBI:

  • Impaired judgement. Especially in cases where the frontal lobe is damaged, people may become reckless and even dangerous, losing all inhibitions humans are meant to have in a functioning society.
  • Lack of trust. Severe paranoia is not uncommon, but it’s not caused by a specific emotional trauma. People can lose the ability to trust even their closest loved ones.
  • Memory loss. This is, perhaps, the most common and “stereotypical” consequence of TBI. It doesn’t mean automatic total amnesia, but it can — and it can also just mean a lifetime without short term memory.
  • Mood swings. Again, this is contingent upon the part of the brain that’s injured. It’s possible for a patient to actually lose the ability to control and regulate their emotions.

The average layperson can look at this list and see how TBIs can look like mental illnesses. From bipolar disorder to PTSD to anxiety and many others, it’s easy to see how an everyday person could make a mistake. Unless you are a medical doctor or mental health professional, you will probably not be able to tell the difference between TBIs and mental illnesses.

Telling them apart is the responsibility of healthcare professionals

Medical professionals, however, have no real excuse for not determining whether changes are the result of a physical injury or a mental condition. When doctors face this issue, or anything similar, they need to slow down and change their way of observing and studying their patient to get to the root cause. Wrongfully attributing one for the other means prescribing wrong treatments, medications, and therapies, which means the actual issues will never get solved, and will therefore probably get worse. Mistaking a TBI for an anxiety disorder can be, without exaggeration, life-threatening. In simple terms, doctors must treat each case as individually as possible, to avoid comparing it to other patients’.

Are there tests to determine what is a TBI and what is a mental health condition?

Yes, there are. There are relatively simple tests they can run to narrow down their lists. Some of those tests include:

  • Imaging tests like CTs and MRIs
  • Looking at determinants on the Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Blood tests
  • Speech and language tests
  • Breathing tests
  • Mobility and fine motor skills tests
  • Communication tests

Of course, this can become even more complicated if a patient has both a TBI and a mental illness, and even more so if the latter predates the former. That is why doctors must perform “neuropsychological assessments to learn more about the patient’s brain and social functions, including the ability to control one’s behavior and actions.”

TBI and mental health are often linked

While it’s never a good idea to conflate the two, TBIs can cause legitimate mental disorders right alongside those they mimic. In fact, for those with milder TBIs, this happens in roughly 1 out of 5 patients. This is why a full battery of tests must be run no matter how a patient presents. Unless the full spectrum of symptoms and effects are known, a patient may never get the care he or she needs.

Understanding TBIs and the way they can affect you is important because no one is immune to suffering one. One bad accident, whether it be a car collision or a fall, can leave you with permanent damage and a lifetime of doctors. While we can’t prevent that from happening, the Nashville personal injury attorneys at Rocky McElhaney Law Firm can be there for you every step of the way to hold the at-fault party responsible for your injuries. We can help you receive the compensation, peace, and justice you deserve, and there’s no better time to get started than as soon as possible. To learn more about how we represent our clients, call us today at 615-425-2500 or fill out our contact form. We have offices in Nashville, Hendersonville, and Clarksville.