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Identify, Intervene: Help Your Loved One with TBI

Retired Tech. Sgt. Chris Ferrell, a former explosive ordnance disposal technician with posttraumatic stress disorder and TBI after combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, shares a laugh about his new beard in the backyard of his in-laws home. (U.S. Air Force photo by J.M. Eddins Jr.)

This article is the second in a three-part series from the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) on helping the loved ones of service members identify the signs of brain injury and mental health issues.

It’s not always the injured person who notices that something is “off.” In fact, it’s often a spouse or family member who recognizes the signs that something’s wrong. Many times, they are also the first to speak up. That was the case when Army Sgt. 1st Class Bradley Lee’s wife noticed her husband’s abnormal symptoms and took the risk to get him help.

When you know what a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is, and what may happen as a result of the injury, you are more prepared to help a loved one.

What is a TBI?

A TBI occurs when a sudden jolt — from something like a motorcycle or bicycle accident, a fender-bender, a gun recoil on the shooting range, or a tackle in a friendly game of football — causes the brain to hit the skull. The resulting injury can be mild, moderate or severe. You may be more familiar with the term concussion, which is also known as mild traumatic brain injury.

The warning signs that your loved one may have a TBI aren’t always visible at first glance. A Head for the Future recommends watching out for the following signs and symptoms:

  • Complaining of headache or a sensation of pressure in the head
  • Loss of or alteration of consciousness
  • Blurred eyesight or other vision problems, such as dilated or uneven pupils
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness, feeling off-balance or the sensation of spinning
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Delayed response to questions
  • Memory loss
  • Fatigue

TBI can also affect someone’s cognitive and emotional health. Symptoms include:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Continued or persistent memory loss
  • Personality changes like irritability
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Sleep problems
  • Mood swings, stress, anxiety or depression
  • Disorders of taste and smell

According to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) Caregiver Curriculum, it’s important to remember that the changes you may see are the direct result of the injury. Behavior changes aren’t a result of your loved one intentionally trying to act or think in a way that may be different or feel hurtful. It’s also important to remember that all cases are different.

Finding help

When you see something wrong with someone you care about, it’s natural to want to help. The good news is that TBI is a treatable condition and most people have a full recovery. And, there are a variety of treatment options available.

The Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury has a 24/7 Outreach Center dedicated to helping you find resources in your area. The DVBIC Recovery and Support Program ensures that service members are supported and connected — and stay connected — to appropriate resources as they progress through to recovery.

If you think someone you know experienced a TBI and are displaying symptoms, talk about your concerns. See if you can persuade your loved one to see a doctor.


Preventing a TBI

You can’t always prevent a fall or an accident, but there are ways to prevent or limit the severity of an injury! The following tips may help keep you and your loved ones safe:

  • Wear a helmet when you engage in any activity that may result in a head collision.
  • When playing sports like rugby or tackle football, make a conscious effort not to tackle head-first.
  • Always wear a seatbelt.

If you do suffer a blow or strike to the head, take a break from whatever activity you were doing; if you are really worried, go to the nearest clinic or hospital

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This page was last updated on: September 19, 2017.