Brain Injury Symposium: The Road to Recovery
By: Dr. Alisa Nola
This past week, I had the honor and privilege of attending the 16th Annual Brain Injury Symposium hosted by the Alamo Head Injury Association. The timing was perfect as March is Brain Injury Awareness month. I was so encouraged by the multi-disciplinary team of specialized professionals that included Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Medical Doctors, Nurses, Social Workers, and Neuropsychologists.
I wanted to share some crucial statistics and information about Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that was highlighted at the symposium:
- 1.5 million people suffer from a TBI each year
- TBI was the leading cause of death between the ages 1-45
- Half of trauma deaths are due to fatal head injuries
- Falls account for 35% of TBIs
- Half a million of emergency department visits are by children 0-14 years annually
- Children are more susceptible to brain injury than adults
- Males from age 0-4 have higher rates of emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths.
Unfortunately, the number of traumatic brain injuries is on the rise. These numbers are under-estimated and only account for the reported injuries that make it to the emergency room. Those affected can also have chronic health problems, sensory and motor changes (vision and auditory), cognitive changes, emotional changes, behavioral changes, and social changes.
Common symptoms that can result from a TBI may include:
- Double vision
- Blurry vision
- Light sensitivity
- Words floating or swimming on a page
- Decreased depth perception
- Poor memory
- Overwhelmed in crowed or new environments
- Fatigues easily
- Clumsiness/poor balance
- Increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli
- Mood changes
80-85% of our perception, learning, cognition, and activities are mediated through vision. Greater than 50% of neurologically impaired patients suffer from visual and visual-cognitive impairments. Some patients may have the symptoms listed above, despite normal ocular health and 20/20 eyesight findings. If any part of the brain is disrupted by a brain injury, the visual pathway can be affected, causing visual dysfunctions and symptoms. Visual skills that can be affected include: visual acuity, visual field, oculomotor (tracking), visual perception, accommodation (focusing), binocular (eye teaming), and visual balance. If visual deficiencies and/or symptoms are diagnosed by a vision specialist, there is hope with neuro-optometric rehabilitation. This specialized and individualized treatment retrains the brain and the eyes to function efficiently. Treatment has been shown to be effective after any length of time that the TBI occurred, due to the brain’s plasticity.
Many people of all ages have been affected by a TBI. They may be fighting to return to their “normal self” or don’t feel “quite right”. Vision is just one piece to the puzzle of the recovery. The Neuro-optometric Rehabilitation Association (https://nora.cc/) is a group of diverse professionals who are dedicated to advancing the science and art of rehabilitation. Dr. Larson OD, FCOVD, FAAO, FNORA is one of only 13 providers in the world who has her fellowship through the Neuro-optometric Rehabilitation Association. Neuro-optometric rehabilitation, coupled with a collaborative and multi-disciplinary care approach can give patients great results in the brain injury healing process and the road to recovery.
The highlight of the symposium was a testimony from a TBI survivor. The guest speaker, likely in his early 30’s, was an avid runner, cyclist and swimmer. Last summer, he was struck by a car while he was cycling on the road. That day changed his life forever. He opened his testimony with these touching words, “this is a confusing time for me, but I am here to fight”. Even speaking was difficult for him because he was learning how to speak again. His goal was to return back to running and cycling. Just a week prior to the meeting, he completed a 5K run! His journey in recovery was very inspiring as he shared stories of how he fought to walk again and the emotional impact of his supportive friends, family, and rehab team. His testimony is an example of one of the many reasons why I am so passionate about neuro-optometric rehabilitation. I am so honored to be a part of a team of many professionals who not only cares about the measurable aspects of recovery, but also the priceless person and their families/friends who are affected.
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