How a service member communicates with others can change after a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
“People with TBI speak better than they communicate,” said Linda Picon, Department of Veterans Affairs senior consultant and liaison for TBI at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.
Picon and Inbal Eshel, Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center senior principal scientist, are a duo with more than 35 years of experience studying and treating TBI patients. They shared with us how TBI can cause communication disorders.
“When TBI patients come to see a speech-language pathologist, they usually don’t have a motor speech disorder,” Picon said. “In other words, they may have trouble communicating, but their mouth movement and their articulation are intact. They often say, ‘The doctor told me to come here, but my speech is fine.’”
Symptoms of communication disorders after a TBI can differ depending upon the type and severity of the injury. For many, problems with communication are the result of difficulties with attention and memory, such as not being able to follow a conversation, not with the ability to speak, Picon added.
Picon explained that TBI often affects personality, self-awareness and higher mental processes, such as decision making and planning.
“These brain functions are necessary for people to carry on conversations and interact appropriately in their communities”, Picon said. “Challenges with pragmatics, or social communication, can make it difficult to keep friends or even a job.”
As the level of TBI severity increases, patients with communication disorders may experience more challenges. For example, they may struggle to pick up on body language and other non-verbal forms of communication.
Plan to Recover
Having a plan and sticking to it is important for recovery from any injury. Picon and Eshel said recovering from communication disorders is not something they would recommend doing without seeking the advice of a professional.
“With the support of a speech-language pathologist, a rehab team, and families or caregivers, people will find strategies that work for them,” Eshel said.
The message to patients and their families about recovery is simple: “Things may feel different, but there are strategies and solutions to reach your goals,” said Eshel.
More on TBI
Before joining DVBIC, Eshel was lead TBI speech-language pathologist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. During her time there she provided interviews related to TBI:
- “People with TBI Need to Think Smart Not Hard”
- “Why Metacognitive Strategies Work for People with TBI”
- “Keep it Simple”