What Those With Traumatic Brain Injury Wished You Understood

Jan 21, 2014
Tagged with: What Those With Traumatic Brain Injury Wished You Understood

Traumatic brain injury survivors are a diverse crowd from skateboarders to war veterans. The TBI network includes people who have suffered mild concussions, and those who have severe traumatic brain injury symptoms. This diversity makes traumatic brain injury somewhat hard to understand, and understanding is what people with TBI need most.

The human mind thrives on communication: you could say that the brain is the original social network. TBI survivors need a degree of social interaction to help repair the damage they’ve suffered. At the same time, there are common traumatic brain injury symptoms that can restrict those interactions. There are two big ways that this takes place: overstimulation, and the way people react to mixed abilities.


The healthy human brain is a miracle of multitasking. Lots of people can drive a car in heavy traffic, while listening to a program on the radio and simultaneously breaking up the two kids fighting in the back seat. We get so good at multitasking, in fact, that we don’t even notice some of the most complex cognitive tasks that we perform–like recognizing a friend’s face and their facial expression, simultaneously (even after they got a new haircut!).

Survivors of TBI often get overloaded with sensory inputs like these. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t do something, but they may need to take it more slowly, or in smaller pieces. Some situations that can easily over stimulate people with TBI include:

* Crowds.

* Conversations, especially with strangers, or high emotions.

* Rushed interactions, such as the checkout line at a busy store.

* Loud noises, motion, anything that “feels like a video game”.

Everyone has their own threshold for stimulation, and those can change. The most important thing is to realize that people with TBI may need to avoid situations that overload them, or at least find ways to take a break.

And let’s face it: most people, even without TBI, are not in the habit of saying “My cognition is over stimulated by all this sensory input.” So you probably need a short hand that will help you to understand what that they are going through such as any particular moment, whether that’s just a facial expression or posture, or a simple statement, such as, “I think I’m going to go upstairs.”


Again, the healthy human brain is an amazing thing. It wears many hats: it controls our muscles, makes us laugh, solves math problems, and remembers that uncle Ralph hates sweet potatoes. Normally, all these pieces are working together smoothly, so we don’t even notice how different those tasks are.

Understanding traumatic brain injury is important in order to understand what they are going through. When the brain is injured, some functions are always damaged more than others, and many elements may remain more or less untouched. One of the most complicated things about TBI is that there is never any precise map to how this happens. Some people may lose memories but have an easy time speaking. Other survivors may remember things in perfect detail–but not the words that go with them, and so on and so forth.

Unfortunately, many people don’t know quite how to respond to this. They see that there’s something different, and they jump to a bunch of conclusions that may not be correct. Losing some of your motor skills doesn’t mean you can’t read emotional cues; losing some of your cognitive abilities doesn’t mean you can’t remember things. Yet it is very easy for people to assume that TBI survivors are limited in activity and understanding but that’s not the only problem. People with TBI need social interaction for their brains to heal as far as possible, and we all need social interaction for our wellbeing. When everyone underestimates you all the time, it is hard to interact.


Loved ones and caregivers of TBI survivors are the best force for education about these issues. They understand the needs, challenges, and potential of TBI survivors. Please join our traumatic brain injury network and build a brighter future for all effected by TBI. Do you have a better understanding of people who have a traumatic brain injury? If no, what information would you need?






Author: Shelly Duell

  • Shelly Duell

    Patience with the everyone you meet is a virtue. Brain injury is can easily be unperceived upon first meeting/speaking with someone. It is also sometimes generally misunderstand that there are various levels of it’s effects on one’s capabilities. You never know what one is dealing with on the inside, but if you did…

  • Bob Lujano

    Shelly, thank you for this insight on knowing what people with TBI endure. The hidden story of TBI are the many care attendants that dedicate their lives and that can give a first hand testimony. How much patience do they have? I would say unlimited.