Concussions occur when there is trauma to the head which results in a brain injury. The trauma can be a blow to the head or even due to violent shaking. Some people, due to their work (like certain professional athletes), experience multiple concussions in the course of their careers that can have some negative long-term effects. People who have experienced a concussion must get the proper medical care as soon as possible to limit the long-term effects.
Long Term Effects of Concussions
1. Mental Impairment
People with concussion commonly struggle to acquire, keep and process information mentally. This will affect memory, learning and making decisions based on reason and critical thinking. Patients will have difficulty keeping their brains focused on what they’re reading or memorizing. All types of memory can become disrupted: short-term, long-term and working memory. Your reasoning skills will become flawed and your sense of logic will fail. There have been reported cases of people who become significantly more impulsive and easily lose their normal self-control.
2. Changes to the Processing of Sensory Input
Depending on the area of the brain that was injured, it is possible to develop blurred vision or impaired hearing. Vision becomes impaired if the back of the head was involved in the trauma. You can lose your spatial awareness and struggle to safely move around in your environment. If one of the sides of your head was involved, your brain can lose the ability to process some familiar sounds.
3. Abnormal Brain Impulses
Abnormal brain impulse is one of the long term effects of concussions. Concussed people will have greater “slow wave” activity on an EEG, which can lead to depression, mood swings, sleep disturbances and a lack of concentration.
4. Decreased Fine Motor Skills
People who have experienced concussion may notice that their balance and co-ordination is not what it used to be prior to the concussion. Activities that require hand-eye co-ordination like playing video games, knitting or juggling will be very difficult. There may be a decline in the gross motor skills like walking and balance as well.
5. Speech Issues
These may include trouble talking and making sense of what is being said to them. Aphasia may also be experienced. This involves difficulty understanding language, including reading and writing. Individuals who experience aphasia will also not be able to display the appropriate facial expressions during a conversation. This condition can be temporary with the right rehabilitation treatments.
6. Emotional Problems
Depression, mood disorders and anxiety are common symptoms in concussed individuals. It is believed to be due to damage to that part of the brain that controls emotional reactions. Anger is one emotion that can become uncontrollable. You may find yourself getting angry all the time and for no apparent reason. The change in brain activity can also lead to anxiety attacks and feelings of stress. There are many reports of former NFL players that have had suicidal thoughts and suffered from major depression.
7. Nerve Degeneration
Some researchers believe that there is a direct link between neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and concussion. Brain trauma has been found to increase your risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease, like dementia or Alzheimer’s, by 26%. This conclusion was made when researchers discovered that when concussed individuals had high levels of a certain protein, their recovery was generally poorer than expected. This same protein is found in high levels in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
How to Recover from Concussion and Prevent Side Effects
Complete recovery depends on many factors like the type of trauma the brain experienced, the age and the general health condition of the person before the concussion and how he rehabilitates after the injury. Here are some tips to promote better recovery and prevent long term effects of concussions.
- Get plenty of sleep at night and rest during the day by avoiding any strenuous activities like vigorous exercising or even activities that require a lot of concentration like reading or watching TV.
- Avoid any contact sports or activities where your head is being violently moved from side to side, like riding a roller coaster.
- Take care when operating heavy machinery, driving a car or even riding a bike. Your reaction time and co-ordination may be greatly diminished.
- Avoid any alcohol or recreational drugs. Take only the medicines prescribed to you by your doctor.
- Try not to multi-task. Do one activity at a time.
- Write important things down so that you’re not under pressure to remember it.
- Ask family or friends to guide you when you need to make important decisions.
- Maintain a healthy diet to facilitate a speedy recovery.
- Drink plenty of water and limit your caffeine intake as well as your salt and sugar intake.
- Start your normal activities very gradually and after consultation with your medical practitioner.
- If you experience headaches, take only painkillers that will not increase your risk of bleeding. Avoid ibuprofen and aspirin for that reason.
- While you’re on the mend from a concussion, avoid any incident where you can get another concussion. A subsequent concussion can cause further swelling and damage in the brain, leading to serious long term effects of concussions.