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. Some crucial statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding traumatic brain injuries include:
- There are more than 2.5 million visits to emergency rooms every year for head injuries.
- Brain injuries are listed as the cause of death for around 50,000 individuals every year.
- The most common reasons why someone sustains a traumatic brain injury include falls, assault, and motor vehicle accidents.
- Traumatic brain injuries occur most often in toddlers, adolescents, and the elderly.
These statistics demonstrate the seriousness of traumatic brain injuries. These can be just as difficult for the individual and their loved ones to deal with as the medical consequences.Why does Personality Change Following a Traumatic Brain Injury?
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.Examples of Ways that Personality Might 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 the 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.
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 lasts 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.
- Common Brain Injury Medications
- Functional Loss Associated with Traumatic Brain Injuries
- Resources for a Traumatic Brain Injury
I’m Ed Smith, a 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, contact me for free, friendly advice at 916.921.6400 or (800) 404-5400.
Image Attribution: by DepositPhotos.com
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Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 12.31.19]