Brain Injury Basics

The brain controls everything we say, do, think, and feel. It keeps us alive through breathing, circulation, digestion, hormones, and the immune system. Through the brain, we experience emotion and express ourselves.

A brain injury may produce an altered or diminished state of consciousness and result in an impairment of cognitive abilities or physical functioning. It can also result in the disturbance of behavioral or emotional functioning. These impairments may be temporary or permanent and cause partial or total functional disability.

NJ Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Fund

The NJ TBI Fund, a Division of Disability Services program, provides New Jersey residents of any age who have survived a traumatic brain injury the opportunity to access the brain injury related services and supports they need to live in the community. Call 1-800-669-4323 for help.

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Types of Brain Injury

A brain injury is an injury to the brain that occurs after birth and is not congenital, degenerative or hereditary. The injury results in a change of the brain’s neuronal activity. There are two types of brain injury: Traumatic Brain Injury and Acquired Brain Injury.

  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

    A TBI is caused by an external factor such as a bump, blow or jolt to the head, that disrupts the normal function of the brain. TBI can be defined as closed (non-penetrating) or open (penetrating). The severity of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) may range from “mild” (i.e., a brief change in mental status or consciousness) to “severe” (i.e., an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury).

  • Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)

    ABI is an injury to the brain that is not hereditary, congenital, degenerative, or induced by birth trauma. This type of injury is one that has occurred after birth. ABI can result in cognitive, physical, emotional or behavioral impairments that may lead to permanent or temporary changes in functioning.

Causes of Brain Injury

  • Falls
  • Assaults
  • Motor Vehicle Crashes
  • Sports/Recreation Injuries
  • Abusive Head Trauma (Shaken Baby Syndrome)
  • Gunshot Wounds
  • Workplace Injuries
  • Child Abuse
  • Domestic Violence
  • Military Actions (Blast Injury)
  • Stroke (Hemorrhage, Blood Clot)
  • Infectious Disease
  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Seizure
  • Electric Shock
  • Tumors
  • Metabolic Disorders
  • Neurotoxic Poisoning (Carbon Monoxide, Lead Exposure)
  • Lack of Oxygen (Drowning, Choking, Hypoxic/Anoxic Injury)
  • Drug Overdose

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Possible Effects of Brain Injury

A brain injury can cause a wide range of  short or long-term changes:

  • Thinking (i.e., memory and reasoning)
  • Sensation (i.e., touch, taste, and smell)
  • Language (i.e., communication, expression, and understanding); and
  • Emotion (i.e., depression, anxiety, personality changes, aggression, acting out, and social inappropriateness)
  • Physical (i.e, seizures, muscle spasticity, fatigue, headaches, balance problems, and more)

Some people with brain injury experience mild to moderate symptoms that are manageable, and others experience more profound changes that require them to have life-long care and assistance. It is important to maintain follow up with medical professionals.

If you or someone you know has a brain injury or needs helps navigating brain injury related resources or information, BIANJ can help. Call the BIANJ Helpline at 1-800-669-4323 or email info@bianj.org.

WE’RE HERE TO HELP

Our Helpline operates Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. When you call, you will speak to a trained Community Resource Specialist who can provide support, resources and information on brain injury, as well as BIANJ programs. Everything discussed is confidential.

CALL 1-800-669-4323

Signs and Symptoms

The symptoms of brain injury usually fall into the following categories:

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Problems with balance
  • Visual disturbance
  • Sensory symptoms (ringing in ears, loss of taste or smell)
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Disorientation or alteration in consciousness
  • Memory problems
  • Reduced attention and concentration
  • Slowed processing speed
  • Reduced reaction time
  • Feeling foggy
  • Repeating questions or answering more slowly than usual
  • Depression or sadness
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Personality change
  • Mood swings/emotional lability
  • Irritability
  • Showing less interest in previously enjoyed activities

CARE MANAGEMENT 

CARES is a free care management program for individuals and families impacted by brain injury.

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Next Steps

Rebuilding after brain injury may take weeks, months, or years.  It is a process that affects individuals and family members differently.

HOME

Once a person leaves the structured regimen of a hospital or rehabilitation center, they may find themselves struggling with coming home to a less structured environment.

  • A person with a brain injury may experience feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety related to their new lifestyle and related challenges.
  • Changes in family and social relationships after a brain injury are common. Caregivers and individuals may experience isolation and avoidance from other family members, friends, and coworkers.
  • It is important to ensure that the home is safe and accessible. Consider modifications like ramps, ceiling-mounted lifts, roll in showers, door wideners, and door openers.
  • Returning home may be overwhelming at first, and may take some time to adjust, so patience is important.

For more support:

  • Contact the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey’s Helpline. A Community Resource Specialist can identify what next steps will be helpful during the transition.
  • Join a support group, or seek out resources that can help you identify strategies for returning home.

SCHOOL

Communication between the student, parents, health professionals, and school staff is vital so that everyone understands the student’s specific needs for getting the proper balance of activity based on his or her individual needs.

Remember:

  • Following the gradual sequence for returning to school makes for the most successful outcome for students
  • Obtain information on available services and modifications well in advance of student’s return to school, then update changes with school staff.
  • It’s important to have ongoing communication between the healthcare team, family and school professionals
  • After sustaining a brain injury, it is very important to avoid any activity that places the student at risk of sustaining another brain injury

Helpful tips:

  • Make sure teachers have information about the child’s injury and classroom needs
  • Provide peers and friends with information about brain injury
  • Visit the school and review scheduling options to help prepare the child

For a full breakdown of Return to Learn Protocol, click here »

WORK

After a brain injury, individuals may find themselves unable to work or may need a change of position or current work responsibilities. Contact a supervisor or human resource professional to request adaptions or reasonable accommodations such as:

  • Returning to light physical duty
  • Taking frequent breaks during the workday
  • Working shortened hours or an alternate schedule
  • Locating a new position within the same company

Did you know?

  • The NJ Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services may be able to assist in identifying appropriate therapies and services for returning to work.
  • Vocational counselors may be able to assist in finding and keeping job placement.
  • If a return to work is not possible, consider volunteering in the community.

RESOURCES

Whether you have a brain injury or concussion, are a caregiver or a professional, we have resources for you.

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PREVENTION WORKSHOPS

Request a customized safety workshop to meet your needs.

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Prevention

Many brain injuries occur as a result of falls, car crashes, or assaults. Preventing a brain injury is important across all ages. By following some key safety measures, you can minimize the risk of sustaining a brain injury.

Brain Injury is the leading cause of death and disability among youth in the United States. The most common causes of brain injury in children and teens include falls, motor vehicle crashes, and abuse.

  • Passenger Safety: The proper use of, car seats, and seat belts can make all the difference. For more information on transportation safety for children, visit JerseyDrives.com.
  • Pedestrian and Bicycle/Helmet Safety: Teach your children how to be safe– whether they are taking the school bus, walking, playing, or being dropped off/picked up at school.Making sure children wear a helmet to protect their head in the event of a crash is a no brainer. Make sure it is properly fitted and is the appropriate size.
  • Toddlers and Falls: The size of a toddler’s head is disproportionate to the rest of their body, and muscles are still weak. Supervise young children at all times around fall hazards, such as stairs and playground equipment, whether you’re at home or out to play. For more information, visit the CDC »
  • Playground Safety: Falls on the playground are a common cause of injury. Check to make sure that the surfaces under playground equipment are safe, soft, and well-maintained (such as wood chips or sand, not dirt or grass). View the PDF »
  • Child Abuse: Brain injury can occur during instances of strangulation, hitting, shaking, throwing, or kicking. Child abuse prevention depends on strong societal systems that support parents, provide education and parenting skills to promote healthy development, and intervention opportunities. View the PDF »
  • Infants and Abuse: Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome, or Abusive Head Trauma, requires understanding and identifying trigger signs. As a parent, it’s okay to ask for help. If you find yourself getting upset, put the baby in a safe place and walk away to calm down. Call someone you trust, or a parent helpline for support.

Some of the highest rates of incidence of brain injury are among adolescents age 15-19. Most of these injuries are caused by falls, motor vehicle crashes, or being struck by an object/hit.

  • Teen Driving Safety: New teen drivers are the most likely to crash within the first few months of getting their license. Know the risks, learn about Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) laws, and develop hazard awareness skills.The U Got Brains Champion Schools Program, hosted by BIANJ, is a statewide peer-to-peer program where teams of high school students are challenged to create safe driving campaigns in their schools and communities. For more information and to apply, visit  the Jersey Drives Champion Schools page.
  • Concussion: Concussions can happen during sports play, practice, and outside of sports. Athletes should play by the rules, use proper technique, and always wear a fitted helmet if the sport calls for it. Above all, when it doubt, sit them out! Always follow play guidelines and concussion protocol.
    Get more information »
  • Intimate Partner Violence/Abuse: Brain injury can occur during instances of strangulation, hitting, shaking, throwing, or kicking. It is important to teach teens about healthy relationships, and keep an eye out for early warning signs before the abuse can occur.
    Get the facts »

Brain injuries occur at every age. Traumatic brain injuries are commonly caused in adults by falls, motor vehicle crashes, or assaults. Acquired brain injuries are often caused by a stroke, lack of oxygen, or a tumor.

  • Seniors and Falls: Talk to your doctor about risks. Practice strength and balance exercises, have your vision checked regularly, and outfit your home with grab bars, railings and plenty of lighting. BIANJ offers community courses for seniors to increase confidence, build strength, and minimize the incidence of senior falls.
    Request a Workshop »
  • Transportation Safety: Crashes are preventable. By abiding by speed limits, sharing the road, avoiding distracted driving and impaired driving, many crashes can be prevented.
    Get 6 Tips for Safer Driving »
  • Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety: It is important for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists to focus on sharing the road. Everyone should avoid distractions, avoid impairment, and obey traffic laws.
    For more tips, visit JerseyDrives.com »
  • Motorcycle Safety: As a motorcyclist, any traffic collision can become life threatening. One of the most common and devastating consequences of a crash is a traumatic brain injury. Always wear the proper gear including helmets, jackets, and boots. Take the pledge to be a safe rider, and we’ll enter you to win up to $250 in new gear!Drivers should be aware that motorcyclists are at a disproportionate risk for crashes. Minimize the risk by sharing the road, checking blind spots more than once, and giving riders plenty of room on the road.
    Take the pledge to share the road, and you will be entered to win a $50 gift card!
  • Strokes and Aneurysms: A stroke or aneurysm is a type of brain injury. Risk factors for strokes and aneurysms include smoking, high blood pressure, and older age. To reduce the risk, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, and follow a healthy diet to keep blood pressure under control.
    Learn more about strokes and aneurysms ».
  • Abuse: Brain injury can occur during Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) instances including strangulation, hitting, shaking, throwing, or kicking. Preventing IPV includes recognizing an unhealthy relationship, communication, managing feelings, and problem solving. Abuse is also prevalent for adults age 60 and older. It is important to be educated and know how to recognize the signs of elder abuse. Check in often with older adults and provide caregivers with support and relief.

JERSEY DRIVES

Visit Jersey Drives to learn how to keep your children safe on our roads.

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We’re here to help. Call 1-800-669-4323.