Oops! I Bumped My Head!
by Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D.
When most people bump their heads, they may "see stars" or feel woozy for a moment. We acknowledge it as a minor, inconvenient pain and go on with our days, not considering any long-term consequences that could evolve from such an incident. Children bump their heads daily, and most everyone has been involved in some sort of car crash. Though these incidents can cause minor immediate injuries, what many don't realize is that some high-impact bumps can severely shake the brain.
Most of the time, a bump is just a bump; however, every now and then a bump-on-the-head can cause damage to the brain that changes how we think, react to stress and cope with the environment.
In a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal, the Brain Injury Research Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine stated that their research team found high rates of undocumented head trauma in the various populations that had been screened. These injuries were linked to problems in later months or years and included depression, learning disabilities, drug abuse, alcoholism, and homelessness. Some of the people identified included high functioning adults who were later unable to perform their jobs or even organize their home and personal lives.
Researchers from Mount Sinai also tried to determine how many children in New York City schools had suffered head injuries. They were able to determine that 50 percent of the students in the learning disabilities program had a history of a hard blow to the head; they also found that the performance of these children could vary greatly from one day to the next. As a result of this uneven performance, teachers assumed the problem was simply a lack of motivation or initiative- not a brain functioning problem.
A larger study in Connecticut, during which 5000 people were interviewed, showed that about 7 percent of these people remembered a blow to the head. During follow-up testing, researchers from New York University found that these people had higher rates of depression, alcohol and drug abuse, panic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders and suicide attempts.
Brain injuries can also be cumulative. While the brain can often compensate for small blows, multiple blows may change a person's behavior, learning and memory. This pattern is often seen in athletes.
The term used to identify these injuries is Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI). This type of injury is difficult for an emergency room or family physician to diagnose because the injury is not revealed on a CAT scan or MRI. These diagnostic procedures look at the structure of the brain - not the how the brain is functioning or communicating within itself. Common symptoms associated with MTBI are being disorganized in one's approach to problems, fatigue, becoming easily frustrated or irritable, having outbursts of anger or rage, becoming more forgetful, having difficulty remaining seated and short-term memory problems.
Treatments for MTBI are limited. Medications can help with some mood and impulse control issues, and neuropsychological training can assist people in regaining cognitive function. However, a person with MTBI often says they do not "feel like myself," even with these treatments.
An alternative method for improving symptoms of MTBI is neurofeedback, or EEG biofeedback. Neurofeedback functions as biofeedback for the brain, giving the brain information about its own performance. The training guides the brain to produce better functioning brainwaves. Over time, the brain learns to produce this pattern without feedback and the client experiences a reduction in symptoms.
The training for the neurofeedback is guided by a QEEG or Quantitative EGG brain map. The brain map shows the frequencies of the EEG at sites on the cortex of the brain and detects patterns of over-activity and under-activity during eyes closed, eyes open, reading and math states. Mapping can also show where areas of the cortex are dissociated or not communicating with each other appropriately. Many symptoms of MTBI can be associated with stretched fibers between the two sides of the brain that interrupt communication. Neurofeedback can assist the brain in developing new communication pathways.
Some clients know that they have had a severe blow to the head, but never associate the negative behaviors about which they are concerned with the blow. After a patient history and a QEEG analysis, doctors can determine if the client had experienced a MTBI that had not been severe enough to receive medical attention. Many bumps are forgotten as part of normal childhood experience.
An adult neurofeedback client had experienced a biking accident which cracked vertebrae in her neck and required her to wear a rigid neck brace. She described her neck injury but did not connect the fact that a blow that hard had probably also resulted in a head injury with resulting attention symptoms. Another client had fallen down a flight of stairs and knew immediately that something was wrong. She experienced many symptoms and was evaluated by several doctors, but the only thing that shed light on her symptoms were the results of her QEEG; her brain mapping correlated with her symptoms, and she said she finally felt like she wasn't "crazy."
Many children and adults have benefited from QEEG evaluation, or brain mapping and neurofeedback training, to reduce the symptoms that have resulted from Mild Traumatic Brain Injury.
Article as Published in Natural Triad, September 2008.
For more information contact
Gail Sanders Durgin, Ph.D.
Neurofeedback Associates, Inc.
2309 W. Cone Blvd., Suite 210
Greensboro, NC 27408