fbpx

News

Fatigue After Brain Injury

By Katherine Dumsa, OTR/L, CBIS and Angela Spears, MA, CCC-SLP, DPNS, CBIS, Rainbow Rehabilitation Centers

 
Fatigue is a part of life that is experienced by everyone. Whether it is from a busy day at work, a demanding workout, or after paying attention to a long lecture, the term “I’m tired” is exceedingly common.

Fatigue and Traumatic Brain Injuries
For individuals with brain injuries, fatigue (sometimes referred to as cognitive fatigue, mental fatigue, or neurofatigue), is one of the most common and debilitating symptoms experienced during the recovery process. It can become a significant barrier to one’s ability to participate in the activities they want and need to do in daily life. It is reported that as many as 98% of people who have experienced a traumatic brain injury have some form of fatigue. Many report that fatigue is their most challenging symptom after brain injury. Reasons for the fatigue are not well understood but may include endocrine abnormalities, the need for the brain to work harder to compensate for brain injury deficits (in other words, inefficiency), or changes to brain structures.

Assessment Tools to Determine Fatigue Levels
Fatigue can be difficult to identify because it is not always reported by the patient or obvious to others. Clinicians use various self-report assessment tools to gain further information on a patient’s fatigue levels and the impact it has on their overall daily functioning. Two of the scales specifically designed for individual patients with brain injuries include the Barrow Neurological Institute Fatigue Scale (BNI) and the Cause of Fatigue Questionnaire (COF). Clinicians must also evaluate physical and mental changes, which can lead to depression and other psychiatric conditions following brain injury. The changes can commonly present as overwhelming fatigue.

Symptoms
Generally, those who have sustained brain injuries have described fatigue as a sense of mental or physical tiredness, exhaustion, lack of energy, and/or low vitality. Physical observations of fatigue include yawning, an appearance of confusion or “brain fog,” or easily losing attention and concentration. In more severe cases, it may present as forgetfulness, irritability, slurred speech, or dizziness. Emotions can become raw at this level of fatigue, affecting mood, motivation, and interaction with one’s social network. To manage fatigue effectively, individuals must learn to identify the symptoms of fatigue and how to modify activities that may trigger fatigue. Managing fatigue effectively will help decrease stress levels and improve overall performance for both work and home activities. Some fatigue-inducing activities include:

  • Working at a computer
  • Watching television excessively
  • Having a stimulating sensory environment
  • Concentrating on paperwork
  • Reading for long periods of time
  • Physically demanding tasks
  • Cognitively demanding tasks
  • Emotionally draining tasks
  •  
    Symptoms of fatigue can include:

  • Physical Symptoms: a pale or greyish pallor, glazed eyes, headaches, tension in muscles, shortness of breath, slower movement and speech, decreased coordination, or difficulty staying awake.
  • Cognitive Symptoms: increased forgetfulness, distractibility, decreased ability to follow directions, making an increased number of mistakes, decreased awareness of surroundings, or increased response time or lack of response.
  • Social/Emotional Symptoms: decreased ability to communicate effectively, decreased ability to engage in social activities, irritability, restlessness, emotional lability, increased negative thoughts, withdrawal, short answers, dull tone of voice, lack of motivation and interest, or difficulty engaging in activities of daily living.
  •  
    Fatigue Is Not Laziness
    In today’s multi-media society, we take in, absorb, and process large amounts of information every day. It can be difficult for family members or peers to understand the limitations caused by fatigue following a brain injury. Unfortunately, it can be mistaken for laziness or an unwillingness to participate in therapies and daily activities. It is important to understand that lacking the mental energy needed to complete tasks does not equate to lacking the desire to complete those tasks. Many individuals struggling with fatigue have motivation but lack the energy to keep up with daily demands.

    Coping Strategies Used to Ease Symptoms
    When managing fatigue, it is important to identify and treat physical factors that may be contributing to the fatigue. Recognizing early signs of fatigue and working with the patient so they understand how to respond to these is beneficial. By learning to recognize these triggers, one can learn coping strategies to successfully meet daily demands, ultimately increasing quality of life. These strategies include:

  • Having a Healthy Sleep Routine – This can be done by setting a sleep schedule of when to go to bed and when to wake, regardless of the day of the week. Establishing a strict routine using an alarm clock allows the brain proper rest. When rest is needed, aim for a “power nap” of 30 minutes maximum to avoid feeling over tired for the remainder of the day. Lack of sleep has a negative effect on our cognition, mood, energy levels, and appetite. The American Academy of Neurology reports that as many as 40% to 65% of people with mild traumatic brain injury complain of insomnia, so maintaining a sleep hygiene program is essential to recovery and to managing fatigue.
  • Practicing Energy Conservation – Pacing yourself each day, or prioritizing daily tasks to avoid becoming over-tired, can help with balancing out a busy schedule. Complete tasks that require the most mental effort earlier in the day with planned rest breaks in the afternoon or evening.
    Organizing daily activities – Utilize a checklist or planner to set a to-do list. Break up complex projects into manageable tasks. When completing these tasks, minimize environmental stimulation as much as possible.
  • Improving Health and Wellness – Increased overall health and wellness has been described as “energizing,” and research suggests that it can improve mood. Aim to exercise three to five times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes per session. Maintain a well-balanced diet rich in protein, fiber, and carbohydrates to help the brain and body stay fully energized.
  • Keeping a Fatigue Diary – This kind of diary can assist in monitoring changes and energy levels before and after daily activities. This tracking of fatigue can be used with your treatment team to help mitigate what may be increasing neurofatigue. Assessment and treatment of fatigue continues to be a challenge for clinicians and researchers. While there is no cure for fatigue, there are many ways to manage and overcome the symptom. Awareness and an open mind towards coping strategies will lessen the negative effects of fatigue and allow for meaningful participation in life.
     
    REFERENCES

  • Keough, A. 2016. Strategies to manage neuro-fatigue.
  • Cantor, J.H., Ashman, T., Gordon, W., Ginsberg, A., Engmann, C., Egan, M., Spielman, L., Dijkers, M., & Flanagan, S. (2008). Fatigue after traumatic brain injury and its impact on participation and quality of life. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. 23(1), 41-51.
  • Jang, S., & Kwon, H. (2016). Injury of the ascending reticular activating system in patients with fatigue and hypersomnia following mild traumatic brain injury. Medicine. 95(6). e2628.
  • Belmont, A., Agar, N., Hugeron, B. Gallais, C. & Azouvi, P., Fatigue and traumatic brain injury. Annales de Réadaptation et de Médecine Physique. 49(6). 370-374.
  • Johnson, G. (2000). Traumatic brain injury survival guide. Traverse City, MI.
  • Heins, J., Sevat, R., Werkhoven, C. (n.d.) Neurofatigue. Brain Injury Explanation.
  •  
    This article first appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of Rainbow Visions Magazine available at www.rainbowrehab.com.

    CLICK HERE to read the original article
     

    What Is a Neuropsych Evaluation?

    By Thomas A. Crosley, Crosley Law

     
    Brain injury can deeply impact how you think, make decisions, process information, and interact with others. When someone else caused your injuries, you deserve compensation for these losses.

    However, it can be hard to explain or document symptoms like memory loss, poor concentration, or impulsivity. In these cases, neuropsychological testing can help you, your medical team, and your personal injury lawyer understand the full effect of your traumatic brain injury (TBI).

    What Is Neuropsychology?

    The field of neuropsychology studies how our brains’ health impacts our emotions and behavior. Our brain is a remarkably complex organ, made up of nerves and tissues that help us feel, think, and perform everyday tasks. When there’s neurological dysfunction due to trauma, brain tumors, and diseases like Alzheimer’s, we may experience emotional and intellectual changes. Sometimes, these changes are subtle, like minor memory problems and mental “fogginess.” Other times, neurological issues create profound personality changes, cognitive deficits, and impaired decision-making.

    Different parts of the brain serve different functions. For example, the temporal lobe helps with our short-term memory, and the frontal lobe controls our memory, decision-making, and judgment. Depending on the location of your brain injury, you may exhibit different symptoms that affect your thinking, speech, vision, memory, and interpersonal relationships.

    A neuropsychological evaluation measures your emotional and cognitive abilities and compares them to the average person of your age, education, and background. An evaluation will typically consider a wide variety of factors, including:

  • Cognitive and intellectual abilities
  • Short-term and long-term memory
  • Executive functioning (your ability to make decisions and interpret information)
  • Speed of processing
  • Concentration and attention
  • Persistence and pace (your ability to finish tasks)
  • Gross and fine motor skills
  • Visual-spatial skills
  • Emotional functioning
  •  
    The evaluator may also look for other possible diagnoses, including depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Finally, the evaluator will typically assess your performance and symptom validity; this process makes a neuropsych evaluation more objective than some other cognitive and mental assessments.

    Using Neuropsychological Testing to Assess the Impact of Brain Injury: A Case Study

    A neuropsychological report can help your doctors, lawyers, and mental health providers understand the full impact of your brain injury, which allows them to build effective treatment plans and fight to get you the compensation you deserve.

    Let’s look at a real-world example of how a neuropsych examination can help a TBI survivor’s legal claims. I represented a young man with an autism spectrum disorder who was struck by a delivery driver’s car while walking home from his job at a grocery store. During the collision, my client suffered significant brain injury, but the insurance company argued that his cognitive and memory deficits were due to his preexisting autism.

    To fight back, we consulted with his medical providers and a neuropsychologist who helped document his trauma-related symptoms and limitations. After mediation, we settled my client’s TBI claim for a significant amount.

    What Should I Expect During a Neuropsych Evaluation?

    During a neuropsychological evaluation, a team of clinicians, including a trained neuropsychologist, will give you a series of tests that assess your thinking abilities, language skills, memory, mental processing, and other abilities. You can expect to do a variety of tasks, including:

  • Answering questions about your daily routine and symptoms
  • Demonstrating your skills at reading, writing, math, and problem-solving
  • Identifying images
  • Recalling information after a time
  • Drawing pictures
  • Solving puzzles
  •  
    Some tests will be oral, while some will be written, computer-based, or task-driven. The precise tests used during your neuropsychological evaluation will vary depending on your diagnosis and other factors.

    However, not all neuropsychologists focus on brain injuries. A specialist who mainly works with dementia patients or another population might offer as detailed and insightful analysis when evaluating a TBI. If you are selecting a neuropsychologist, make sure they understand and regularly work with people with brain injury.

    How Long Does Neuropsych Testing Take?

    A neuropsych evaluation will take up to eight hours to complete. Typically, you’ll be able to take breaks as needed. If you become too tired or overwhelmed, the evaluator may split the testing over several days.

    What Happens After I Complete My Evaluation?

    Once you’ve completed your testing, the neuropsychologist will review your results, medical records, and other information to create a comprehensive report that discusses your cognitive abilities and limitations. If the neuropsych evaluation was scheduled as part of your TBI care plan, the process will include treatment recommendations and referrals to specialists, like speech therapy and counseling services.

    However, if an insurance company requested your neuropsych evaluation, it might serve a different purpose. Sometimes, “independent medical examinations,” including neuropsychological testing, are used to deny or reduce the value of a TBI survivor’s legal claims.

    For example, the insurance company may argue that your performance validity or symptom validity scores suggest you’re exaggerating symptoms. Rather than recommending treatment that will help you overcome your traumatic brain injury, the report will minimize your symptoms and suggest that you’re malingering (pretending your problems are worse than they are).

    To fight back, you’ll need to work with a personal injury lawyer who can carefully assess the evaluator’s methodology and identify issues and inconsistencies in their report. If you don’t already have an attorney, it’s a good idea to consult with a BIAA Preferred Attorney who has a documented track record of success.

    How Can I Prepare for Neuropsych Testing?

    While you can’t study for a neuropsych examination, there are some simple ways you can prepare for your appointment with the neuropsychologist:

  • Request an up-to-date list of your medications and prescriptions from your pharmacist or doctor
  • Get a good night’s sleep beforehand
  • Take your medications as prescribed
  • Eat a healthy meal before the exam
  • Dress comfortably for your day of testing
  • Wear your glasses or hearing aids, if needed
  •  
    Remember, as long as you are honest and give a good effort, you can’t “fail” a neuropsychological assessment.

    Worried About an Upcoming Neuropsych Evaluation? Consult with a BIAA Preferred Attorney

    If the insurance company schedules a neuropsych evaluation, it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced TBI lawyer. When you work with a BIAA Preferred Attorney, they can help you prepare for your examination, identify issues that may impact your legal claims, and fight back against an insurance company’s negative neuropsychological report.

    To find a TBI lawyer in your community, visit the BIAA Preferred Attorney page and click on “Narrow Your Search.” You’ll be able to filter Preferred Attorneys by their location and practice area.
     

    CLICK HERE to read the original article
     

    Best Practices for Managing Stress and Anxiety During Times of Uncertainty

    By Gary Seale, Ph.D., Regional Director, Centre for Neuro Skills

     
    The COVID-19 outbreak has produced a great deal of uncertainty and unwelcome anxiety. It’s no wonder we feel distressed when our daily routines have been severely disrupted. Due to social distancing and business closures, most people are not able to visit their favorite restaurant, go shopping, or engage in a work-out routine at the fitness center. When you couple this with concerns about personal health, uncertainty about how long these changes will last, and information and directives that change daily, it’s no wonder that many of us feel diseased or anxious. Several credible sites have recently posted simple but effective strategies to manage stress and remain emotionally healthy during this time of uncertainty. Some of the most frequent suggestions by experts at the American Psychological Association, Forbes, the Harvard Business Review, HealthLine, and others include the following:

    Differentiate between what is within your control vs. what is not in your control. Stay focused on the things you can do. Make a list and practice these regularly, and reward yourself for these practices. For example, you can:

  • Wash your hands, cover coughs and sneezes, etc.
  • Limit exposure to news. Manage stress by reducing (or eliminating) the number of times you check in to your favorite media outlet. The American Psychological Association recommends avoiding negative news right before bedtime.
  • Take care of your health (take your vitamins, get enough sleep, hydrate, engage in a daily exercise routine, etc.).
  • Practice your preferred relaxation technique if you feel stressed, such as deep breathing, yoga, mindful meditation, etc. If you don’t have a relaxation practice, now is a great time to develop one.
  •  

    Do the things that help you feel safe, such as:

  • Practice “social distancing” and limit exposure to groups of 10 or more people.
  • Give an “elbow bump” vs. a hug or a handshake.
  • Order out and have food delivered to your home or work; shop on-line and have items delivered to your home vs. going to a store or the mall.
  •  

    Rather than worrying about something that might happen in the future, stay focused on the present; maintain proper perspective.

  • Stay present and in the moment; focus on the task at hand.
  • If you feel yourself “borrowing trouble,” bring yourself back to the present.
  • Use a mindfulness practice (savor a favorite snack or meal; closely observe a pleasing object, such as a flower, etc.). If you don’t have a mindfulness practice, now is a great time to explore/develop one.
  • Put the situation into proper perspective (for example, as of March 24th in Houston/Harris County there are about 206 confirmed/presumed cases of COVID-19 and 2 deaths from this virus. Nineteen have fully recovered. Houston/Harris County has a population of approximately 6+ million. That translates into an infection statistic of 0.003%). Additionally, we live in a time and a nation of great abundance – an abundance of intellectual horsepower (some of the best minds in infectious diseases are here in the U.S. and are working on vaccines for this virus); an abundance of resources (the government has released over a trillion dollars to support research, product development and distribution, and aid to businesses); an abundance of entrepreneurs (companies re-tooling to overproduce cleaning supplies, ventilators, etc.).
  • This situation is temporary. As with other pandemics (MARS, SARS, H1N1, Zika, etc.), this too shall pass.
  •  

    Engage in proven positive psychology practices.

  • Start a gratitude list. Of all the positive emotions, gratitude is one of the most powerful and protective (from depressive symptoms). Simply start a list of all the things you are grateful for, large and small
  • Three Good Things. At the end of the day, list 3 good things that happened during the day. Once you have your list on paper, think about how you made those good things happen and reward yourself
  • Downward comparisons. Rather than thinking or saying to yourself, “I wish I…”, think or say to yourself, “I’m glad I…” For example, “I’m glad I work in the healthcare industry. I have a stable job, and in my work, I am able to help others.”
  • Connect with something larger than yourself. In the example above, you may find yourself feeling compassion for those out of work due to COVID-19, like servers in the restaurant industry. Ordering out from your favorite local restaurant and tipping big may help keep that business open during a time when the restaurant is closed to the public. Or you may want to visit a local blood bank and give blood as most all blood donation activities at large venues, like businesses, churches, etc. have been suspended for the time being.
  •  

    Get outside and enjoy nature.

  • During this time when we are practicing “social distancing”, we may feel “cooped up” which can result in feelings of anxiety. Getting outdoors and enjoying nature can lift your mood and help with managing stress. Walking increases heart rate and respiration, which is good for brain function and overall health. Spending time in the sunlight produces vitamin D, which improves the immune response. Being in “awe” (of nature) is another, very powerful positive emotion that can lift the mood and protect against depressive symptoms.
  •  

    Stay connected and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

  • Take this time to call friends and family and catch up.
  • Talk to a trusted friend about how you are feeling and all the practices you are using to stay healthy, both physically and mentally.
  • If you are feeling particularly distressed, reach out to a counselor or other mental health practitioner.
  • Talk to your supervisor or HR representative about your particular situation and any support you might need.
  •  

    Engage in resilience practices.

  • Think about a time when you faced a challenging situation and overcame it.
  • In your home or office, post some inspirational quotes, for example: “Never, never, never give up.” – Winston Churchill; “Failure is not an option.” – Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director; “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” – Robert Schuller
  • Create a “resilience library” with inspirational books, videos, etc. For example, the book, “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand, or the movie, “Remember the Titans”.
  • When possible, find “positives” (i.e., lower gas prices, safer commutes to work/less drunk drivers on the road, etc.), or lessons learned from the situation.
  • Use humor as appropriate.
  • If you have one, engage in your spiritual practice.
  •  

    CLICK HERE to read the original article
     

    Thankfulness: How Gratitude Can Help Your Health

    American Heart Association heart.org, November 10, 2020

     
    Gratitude is more than a buzzword. It’s a habit and practice that may actually change your perception of well-being.

    Are you feeling overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic, all the changes it has brought to your life and everything you need to worry about to stay safe?

    Or do you sometimes feel like you just can’t catch a break? You know — the truck that cut you off, the weird feedback you got from your boss, the grocery item you need but is never on the store shelf? Do you sometimes feel negative and cynical?

    Sure, we all do this a little, but doing it a lot can lead to depression1, which is linked to poor heart health, more inflammation and even a weaker immune system.2 Yikes!

    Some neuroscience experts think our brains focus on negative information as a way to remember pain so we can avoid it in the future. They call this the “negativity bias.”3

    To balance out this natural tendency, we can practice gratitude.

    “Gratitude is good medicine,” says Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis and author of The Little Book of Gratitude.

    “Clinical trials indicate that the practice of gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. It can lower blood pressure and improve immune function. … Grateful people engage in more exercise, have better dietary behaviors, are less likely to smoke and abuse alcohol and have higher rates of medication adherence.”4

    Dang, being grateful is the gift that seriously keeps on giving, right? Who couldn’t use all these benefits right now?

    Here’s a simple way to get started:

    Write these down before you go to bed or share them around the dinner table. In five minutes, you can practice gratitude from the heart.

    1. Health: What did your body do for you today?
    Did you know you take about 8 million breaths a year? Your feet can take you up a mountain; your arms can hold someone you love. Take a minute to marvel at the finely tuned machinery of your body, and thank yourself for the steps you take every day to keep it safe and healthy.
     
    2. Eat: What did you feed your body to nourish yourself today?
    Was it an old favorite, something you made or something new and different? If you eat three meals a day, you’ll eat about a thousand meals this year! Take a minute to savor an especially yummy meal. And check out some healthy options on the AHA’s recipe hub.
     
    3. Activity: What did you do that you really enjoyed today?
    Did you give it your all when exercising today, or find a quiet moment while sitting in traffic to reflect? Take a minute to think back on one particularly awesome moment.
     
    4. Relationship: Whom do you look forward to connecting with?
    Is it someone who sets your heart on fire, always has a smile for you, has your back or makes you laugh until you cry? Take a minute to smile as you think about this special person. Then make plans for a virtual meet-up.
     
    5. Time: What are you doing right now?
    Every single day you wake up with 24 brand new hours. The past is history, the future is a mystery and today is a gift. That’s why they call it the present! Take a minute to be thankful for the gift of time, including any extra time you have right now for your family or yourself.
    Let’s do this, and be Healthy for Good!
     

    SOURCES:
    1 Journal of Cognition and Emotion,Negative processing biases predict subsequent depressive symptoms. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02699930143000554
    2 National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, Chronic Illness & Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/chronic-illness-mental-health/index.shtml
    3 National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Not all emotions are created equal: The negativity bias in social-emotional development https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3652533/ and Agency Attribution in Infancy: Evidence for a Negativity Bias https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4011708/.
    4 American Heart Association News, Gratitude is a healthy attitude.

     

    CLICK HERE to read the original article
     

    Serving the Brain Injury Community for 30+ years