Traumatic Brain Injury A to Z - Sensory Changes

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Dizziness

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It’s not unusual for patients to feel dizzy during TBI recovery. Watch as Tracy and the group explore strategies for managing dizziness.
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Dizziness

Julie
You know Michelle, now that Tom’s awake he’ll probably be moving around more. You may find that he complains about dizziness.

Tracy
That’s right, Julie. Dizziness is a very common effect of TBI. Tom may complain that the room is spinning, moving, you know causing that sense of vertigo. So if that happens, he could lose his balance, he could fall. You just want to “fall-proof” the house.

Carl
Julie had me get rid of all her area rugs and electrical cords, things that Sam could slip or trip on. We also put on non-slip mats on the shower and bath floors.

Tracy
Good idea, Carl. Good idea. Also, you want to make sure that the room is well lit. That Tom is encouraged to use any of the assistive devices that his team might’ve provided for him.

Travis
What’s an assistive device?

Tracy
Oh things like canes, walkers…equipment that may help your Dad get around when he comes home.

Okay, just a few more things… You’ll want to remind your Dad to avoid sudden movements. It can also help to sit for a few minutes before walking. You know it just gives the brain time to adjust. So encourage him to sit or to lie down as soon as he feels dizzy.

Julie
Sam didn’t seem to get dizzy very often at first, but once he started walking again, he couldn’t seem to keep his balance. They had this kind of belt like contraption that Carl would hold onto while Sam walked up and down the halls in the hospital. It was a good part of Sam’s therapy.

Carl
Heck, it was good therapy for me, too. At least I felt like I was doing something.

Tracy
Something very helpful, Carl. Sam’s lack of balance is pretty common. Our brains control our physical movement, our balance, so obviously a TBI can cause problems with that. Now fortunately, those problems usually go away over time and with physical therapy.

In fact, many of the effects that you see may improve over time. Some of the others might be sensory changes, spasticity, vision problems, seizures, a variety of cognitive effects are some of the possibilities. So you’ll find a description of what to expect, along with those tips on how to manage those conditions, in the Managing Less Common Effects of TBI in your Guide for Caregivers.

Okay, I think this is a good point to take a break.

This week please take some time to write in your journal. It’s important. If you haven’t started one yet, you’ll find a template in your Guide for Caregivers. Keep track of the progress that your family member is making - - even those… those small steps. And write down your experiences, your feelings. But do take time for yourself.

Julie
Along that line, Tracy, we use a website called caringbridge.org. When Sam first got hurt, everyone in our family was calling every day, trying to get information. And it was just too much; it was overwhelming. Carl and I couldn’t keep up, and stay with Sam at the same time. Then the people at the Fisher House in Landstuhl, told us about caringbridge. It’s great. You can download pictures, and create a website for your injured soldier, and keep everyone posted. Every day I go on there and write in my journal. It’s good therapy for me, and our entire family can check up on Sam’s progress.

Tracy
That’s terrific, Julie. Yeah, I’ve met many people who’ve used both caringbridge and another website, called caringpages.com. It’s really helped in a couple of ways - - keeping family and friends updated, serves as a journal for the caregiver. You know if you have a chance, check the sites out. I think they’ll help.

So next week lets talk about taking care of yourself, which is key to being an effective caregiver. Okay. Thanks everybody for coming. And remember, I’m here for you if you need anything, you know where to find me. Okay.
 

Sensory Changes

The brain is the center for all five of our senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.

When the brain is injured, each of the senses is at risk for change. There is often not much to be done about these changes in the first year after injury.

Doctors often use a “wait and see” approach with the hope that sensory changes will go away on their own.

For some sensory changes that don’t go away over time, surgery may help. For others, therapy and learning to live with the effect will be in order.

What you might see:

  • Vision changes, such as blurry vision, double vision, or sensitivity to light 
  • Hearing changes, including muffled hearing or ringing in the ears (tinnitus) in one or both ears
  • Changes in taste and smell. This could be a complete lack of taste and smell or an altered taste, such as a metallic flavor in the mouth

How you can help:

  • A neuro-ophthalmologist can evaluate visual changes. A neurologist can evaluate other sensory changes.
  • Reinforce wearing of an eye patch or special glasses if ordered for double vision.
  • Ask your service member/veteran to avoid alcohol. It may increase sensitivity to light and noise.
  • Seek professional advice about whether or not it is safe for your family member to drive if he or she is having a change in vision.
  • Have his or her hearing checked. Use hearing aids, if needed. 
  • Ask a dietitian about tips for eating if taste and smell are lost or altered.
  • Make sure you have a working smoke alarm in the house if his or her sense of smell has been lost.
  • Try to be patient. Sensory changes can improve over the first several months or years after TBI. Work with the health care team to track how the senses are working. Seek further evaluation and treatment options as needed.
Related Information:
Dizziness
Other Physical Effects
Glossary
Frequently Asked Questions
"I so wish that at the beginning I had had someone like the people I’ve met here at Fisher House, who are already two years post-injury. I wish I would have had some- body like that come up to me and just put their arms around me and say, You know what? Any question you need to ask, just ask it." -  Meredith H.

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