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Symptoms of Brain Injury

Any brain function can be disrupted by brain trauma: excessive sleepiness, inattention, difficulty concentrating, impaired memory, faulty judgment, depression, irritability, emotional outbursts, disturbed sleep, diminished libido, difficulty switching between two tasks, and slowed thinking. Sorting out bonafide brain damage from the effects of migraine headaches, pain elsewhere in the body, medications, depression, preoccupation with financial loss, job status, loss of status in the community, loss of status in the family, and any ongoing litigation can be a formibable task.

The extent and the severity of cognitive neurologic dysfunction can be measured with the aid of neuropsychological testing. Neuropsychologists use their tests to localize dysfunction to specific areas of the brain. For example, the frontal lobes play an essential role in drive, mood, personality, judgment, interpersonal behavior, attention, foresight, and inhibition of inappropriate behavior. The ability to plan properly and execute those plans is known as "executive function." Frontal lobe injury is often associated with damage to the olfactory bulbs beneath the frontal lobes. Patients may note reduced or altered sense of smell. One recent study (Varney 1993) showed that 92% of brain injured patient suffering anosmia (loss of smell) had ongoing problems with employment, even though their neuropsychological testing was relatively normal.

The effects of brain injury on the patient may be equaled or even surpassed by the effect on the patient's family. Brain injuries are known for causing extreme stressors in family and interpersonal relationships.

In general, symptoms of traumatic brain injury should lessen over time as the brain heals but sometimes the symptoms worsen because of the patient's inability to adapt to the brain injury. For this and other reasons, it is not uncommon for psychological problems to arise and worsen after brain injury.

SYMPTOM CHECKLIST

A wide variety of symptoms can occur after "brain injury." The nature of the symptoms depends, in large part, on where the brain has been injured. Below find a list of possible physical and cognitive symptoms which can arise from damage to specific areas of the brain:

Frontal Lobe: Forehead

Loss of simple movement of various body parts (Paralysis).
Inability to plan a sequence of complex movements needed to complete multi-stepped tasks, such as making coffee (Sequencing).
Loss of spontaneity in interacting with others.
Loss of flexibility in thinking.
Persistence of a single thought (Perseveration).
Inability to focus on task (Attending).
Mood changes (Emotionally Labile).
Changes in social behavior.
Changes in personality.
Difficulty with problem solving.
Inability to express language (Broca's Aphasia).

Parietal Lobe: near the back and top of the head

Inability to attend to more than one object at a time.
Inability to name an object (Anomia).
Inability to locate the words for writing (Agraphia).
Problems with reading (Alexia).
Difficulty with drawing objects.
Difficulty in distinguishing left from right.
Difficulty with doing mathematics (Dyscalculia).
Lack of awareness of certain body parts and/or surrounding space (Apraxia) that leads to difficulties in self-care.
Inability to focus visual attention.
Difficulties with eye and hand coordination.

Occipital Lobes: most posterior, at the back of the head

Defects in vision (Visual Field Cuts).
Difficulty with locating objects in environment.
Difficulty with identifying colors (Color Agnosia).
Production of hallucinations.
Visual illusions - inaccurately seeing objects.
Word blindness - inability to recognize words.
Difficulty in recognizing drawn objects.
Inability to recognize the movement of object (Movement Agnosia).
Difficulties with reading and writing.

Temporal Lobes: side of head above ears

Difficulty in recognizing faces (Prosopagnosia).
Difficulty in understanding spoken words (Wernicke's Aphasia).
Disturbance with selective attention to what we see and hear.
Difficulty with identification of, and verbalization about objects.
Short term memory loss.
Interference with long term memory.
Increased and decreased interest in sexual behavior.
Inability to catagorize objects (Categorization).
Right lobe damage can cause persistent talking.
Increased aggressive behavior.

Brain Stem: deep within the brain

Decreased vital capacity in breathing, important for speech.
Swallowing food and water (Dysphagia).
Difficulty with organization/perception of the environment.
Problems with balance and movement.
Dizziness and nausea (Vertigo).
Sleeping difficulties (Insomnia, sleep apnea).

Cerebellum: base of the skull

Loss of ability to coordinate fine movements.
Loss of ability to walk.
Inability to reach out and grab objects.
Tremors.
Dizziness (Vertigo).
Slurred Speech (Scanning Speech).
Inability to make rapid movements.