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Changes in Personality Following a Traumatic Brain Injury


A traumatic brain injury is sustained when a major outside force makes forcible contact with the head or neck area, damaging the brain tissue underneath. This can lead to long-term medical consequences, personality changes, and even death.

Crucial statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that:

  • More than 2.5 million visits to emergency rooms every year are due to head injuries.
  • Brain injuries are listed as the cause of death for about 50,000 individuals every year.
  • The most common causes of a traumatic brain injury are falls, assault, and motor vehicle accidents.
  • Traumatic brain injuries occur most often in toddlers, adolescents, and the elderly.
Why Does Personality Change Following a TBI?

Much of the research has focused on the treatment of the medical aspects of traumatic brain injuries. There are complicated issues that can arise when someone has suffered brain damage. Examples include:

  • Loss of motor function, which may consist of paralysis.
  • Loss of sensory function, which could lead to the development of chronic pain.
  • Difficulty eating, speaking, and even breathing on their own.

While these medical issues are important, it is just as important not to overlook the emotional and personality changes that can accompany a traumatic brain injury. This stems from damage to the regions of the brain that control personality. Examples of this include:

  • The frontal lobe
  • The temporal lobe
  • The amygdala
  • The hippocampus

Damage to these areas can cause many issues. Those who suffer damage can manifest numerous different symptoms in the acute period. Examples include:

  • Anterograde and retrograde memory loss
  • Lots of emotional lability
  • Anxiety, agitation, and excess worry
  • Verbal outbursts
  • Physical aggression
  • Difficulty controlling impulses

It is important to remember that personality changes and physical changes are not mutually exclusive. They go hand in hand. It is unusual for people to have damage to a part of their brain that only controls one function. Therefore, the symptoms are likely to manifest themselves in more ways than one.

Ways Personality Could Change

There are many different ways that someone's personality could change following a traumatic brain injury. While the symptoms mentioned above may fade with time, some of them may persist for years to come. Examples of possible personality changes include:

  • A Lack of Trust: People who have suffered brain damage may have trouble trusting anyone, even their family. It could feel like getting to know a completely new person. They may lob accusations that are entirely unfounded or go behind people's backs. They may have started to hallucinate or develop delusions.
  • Emotional Lability: One of the hardest issues to deal with is emotional lability. People can go from being happy to sad and then angry in the blink of an eye. Sometimes, there may not be any explanation at all. Specific lobes of the brain are responsible for controlling emotions, and if they become damaged, feelings may be hard to control.
  • Impaired Judgment and Lack of Inhibition: The frontal lobe is responsible for managing people's judgment and inhibition. This is what prevents people from speeding down the road, saying things that they might regret, and drinking too much alcohol. When the frontal lobe is damaged, people lose their inhibitions. They may spend all of their money, say things that they don't mean, cheat on their spouses, and even strike people. They have no fear of consequences.
  • Memory Loss: Similar to individuals who have dementia, people's personalities may change due to issues with their memory. They may not remember who their family and friends are. They could also have trouble forming new memories. Because people develop their personalities as a consequence of their experiences, memories play a vital role. A lack of these memories can completely change someone's character.

Managing Personality Changes with a TBI

It can be a challenge to maintain the personality changes that develop after a traumatic brain injury. There are some tips that family members and friends should follow to manage these issues. These include:

  • Be Alert: It can be easy to dismiss changes in someone’s personality but remember that any acute or abrupt changes could be a sign of a new injury, such as a stroke or a brain bleed. Seek medical care for anything out of the ordinary.
  • Patience: Patience is the most important thing to remember. The verbal lashing out and emotional lability often only last a few seconds to a few minutes. Wait to see if this lability resolves because the individual is coping with their new baseline.
  • Ask for Help: Depression is common in people with neurological damage, and it is essential to seek help from mental health professionals when managing this. It is also important to ask for help from family members and friends with day to day activities.

This 3-dimensional video provides a look at what goes on in the brain following a traumatic brain injury.

Sacramento Traumatic Brain Injury Lawyer

Personality changes following a traumatic brain injury can be heartbreaking. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, reach out to our injury attorneys for free, friendly advice at 916.921.6400 or (800) 404-5400.

We are members of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and the National Association of Distinguished Counsel.

See a list of our past cases on our verdicts and settlements page and our client reviews on AvvoYelp, Google.

Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 6.25.21]

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