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K-State Today

April 16, 2013

New resources available for traumatic brain injury survivors, families

Submitted by Nancy Peterson

A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, isn’t visible, like a broken leg or the loss of a limb. Yet the effects of such an injury can impact physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral functions and bring life and lifestyle changes for the survivor and his or her family.  

A survivor of traumatic brain injury may have difficulty communicating effectively, performing basic life skills, maintaining independence – driving can be an issue – or returning to work, said Deb Sellers, K-State Research and Extension specialist on adult development and aging.

With falls the leading cause of such brain injuries, Sellers said that she sees traumatic brain injury as an emerging issue in the U.S. because of its aging population. One out of three older adults ages 65 and older, is expected to fall within the course of a year, she said.

Children also can be vulnerable, and so can teens, who tend to engage in more risky behaviors, said Sellers, who cited examples such as playground, sports, bicycle, auto and farm accidents.

Traumatic brain injuries attributed to improvised explosive devices also have become the ‘signature’ injury resulting from conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, she said. Sellers said the Brain Injury Association of America defines a traumatic brain injury as an alteration in brain function or other evidence of brain pathology caused by an external force.  

Traumatic brain injury is different than a stroke or other types of internal injury to the brain, she added, because it is attributed to an external cause, such as a bump, jolt or blow to the head, or penetrating injury -- also to the head.

Rehabilitation and recovery vary because no two injuries are alike, she said.

Most who experience the injury are unfamiliar with it and, often at a loss to know how to access resources that can be helpful in rehabilitation and recovery.

Once aware of the need, Sellers teamed with Jane Mertz Garcia, professor and speech language pathologist, communication sciences and disorders in the School of Family Studies and human services at Kansas State University, to apply for grant funding. The result is a resource guide named “TBIoptions.”

With funding from Kansas’ Social and Rehabilitation Services and the help of K-State Research and Extension agents across the state, the two worked with 28 communities, which helped identify medical and community-based support services for injury survivors in four categories: community support; financial; health and related concerns, and treatment and rehabilitation.

Extension agents took part in pre- and post-tests to evaluate their knowledge of traumatic brain injury before and after doing the local research.

Sellers and Garcia pooled the information to compile a list of community-based resources and create a website, including an interactive map for survivors, families and caregivers to match their needs to resources within their area.

They also sought grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural health and safety education competitive program to develop an educational program and materials called “TBIoptions” Promoting Knowledge.

The educators interviewed 14 traumatic brain injury survivors, families and caregivers and developed fact and tip sheets, available at K-State Research and Extension offices throughout the state, and online at www.TBIoptions.ksu.edu and www.aging.ksu.edu. The site includes videos with survivors who share their stories about rebuilding their lives and relationships, and opportunities for reflective thinking and personal growth.

The resources are intended to promote understanding of TBIs among the general public and community members, and encompass three key topics: 

  • Create change through knowledge about traumatic brain injury,
  • Create positive differences for people who experience traumatic brain injury, and
  • Create a supportive community for people who experience traumatic brain injury.

For survivors, the ultimate goal can be returning to work, said Sellers, who noted that rehabilitation can be a slow process, but one worth working on – and supporting.

More information about the project is available at online.