March is Brain Injury Awareness Month
Last year I started Brain Injury Awareness Month with a bang. Literally. I was minding my own business early the morning of March 3rd, clearing the snow off of my driveway. I was almost finished when I hit a hidden patch of ice, my feet went up toward the sky and my head went down toward my driveway. I was fortunate that my concussion was fairly mild. Last year I did not remember that March was Brain Injury Awareness Month - I was busy recovering…for several months.
The meeting between my head and my driveway provided me with a new perspective on my patients recovering from acquired brain injuries, though not one I would recommend if you can avoid it. I always felt that I had a good understanding of the pain and frustration that accompanies most brain injuries. But there’s just no substitute for firsthand experience. Many of the people I’ve worked with over the years were injured just enough to have serious issues yet still know that there are things they used to be able to do, but could not do anymore. That always seemed very frustrating to me. Now I know it differently. It is heartbreaking to me as I try everything I can to help people recover from traumatic brain injury, whether it is a concussion or a more severe brain injury. Some with whom I’ve worked were injured much more seriously, but it’s the other group that I’d like to address here.
Those who have experience either being injured or working with brain-injured individuals know that every brain injury is unique - just as every person is unique. Each person must be evaluated and treated as an individual. No treatment works every time. One thing that is very likely with most brain injuries is visual disruption. Things like light sensitivity, eye fatigue and discomfort, headaches, double vision, balance problems and dizziness can all result from a closed head injury.
This week I began working with a US Army veteran who was close enough to a blast event in Iraq to end up with a mild traumatic brain injury and an array of symptoms including vertigo-like symptoms, frequent eye fatigue and eye discomfort, as well as headaches and double vision when reading. He was excited by the prospect of reducing or eliminating his symptoms with vision therapy, especially after living with much of this for almost eight years. Dan has been doing all kinds of rehab since his injury, but nothing that truly addressed his visual deficits and goals.
I was excited when some simple techniques brought immediate and noticeable improvement in how he felt. I changed his lens prescription and modified his glasses with something called narrow binasal occlusion, which immediately and significantly reduced his dizziness. If you’ve ever been dizzy for any length of time you know how disruptive this can be. If you’ve never been dizzy for any length of time, try to keep it that way - you don’t want to know. I’m looking forward to helping this gentleman to get back as much of his normal life as possible.
The frosted area on either side of the nose is narrow binasal occlusion
It is almost a guarantee that there will be visual and visually related deficits with any significant brain injury. Vision therapy is almost always helpful as part of the recovery process in any brain injury - concussion or otherwise. Anyone suffering such an injury would be wise to include a behavioral optometrist experienced in working with brain injured people on the team. No other profession has the knowledge base or tools behavioral optometry has to help people improve visual function. I will be sharing the stories of some of my brain injured patients throughout the month.