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Marriage counseling helps traumatic brain injury car accident victims

February 10, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

Studies say more help needed for behavioral and personality changes inTBI survivors

Our office helps a number of brain injury survivors. It’s an area of injury that Michigan Auto Law has become known for, and we receive a number of referrals from other Michigan personal injury lawyers for people who have suffered brain injuries in car accidents around the state.

One thing I’ve noticed from my own practice helping brain injury survivors is that the divorce rate in the years following is extremely high. I’ve heard from TBI specialists that the statistic approaches 80 percent, and it is sadly common for the stresses and changes in personality to cause devastation for both the victim and the spouse.

As attorneys who focus on helping brain injury accident victims, we would like to share a compelling New York Times article with our readers. This story addresses the obstacles brain injury survivors and their partners face as they try and figure out a new way of life that’s consumed by the stresses of brain injury recovery – and the issues that therefore arise in their relationships due to personality changes from the traumatic brain injury (TBI).

I often discuss the cognitive impairments and physical pain and fatigue of healing from traumatic brain injury after a car crash. But the emotional consequences are just as serious, especially when all of an accident victim’s personal relationships are jeopardized, as the TBI victim’s brain undergoes changes that cause significant personality change. Behavior becomes very different for many brain injury survivors. The most common thing I hear from co-workers, close friends, and spouses is that after a crash, a TBI victim acts like a completely different person.

Doctors who specialize in TBI say it’s extremely common for car accident victims with traumatic brain injury to be divorced shortly after, but according to this New York Times article, the relationships that survive are also damaged.

Psychologists at Virginia Commonwealth University are trying to develop marriage counseling technologies tailored to couples dealing with a spouse who has suffered traumatic brain injury. This means teaching uninjured or able-bodied partners to recreate a relationship with a person who has gone through immense changes, and helping them accept that they are changed — instead of looking back on the past, which could be very painful because TBI victims are no longer the same person.

Behavioral symptoms of traumatic brain injury from a car accident

Here are some of the behavioral symptoms of traumatic brain injury, which signal different moods and personalities:

o Decreased ability to initiate responses
o Verbal and physical aggression
o Agitation
o Learning difficulties
o Shallow self-awareness
o Altered sexual functioning
o Impulsivity
o Social dis-inhibition
o Mood disorders
o Personality changes
o Altered emotional control
o Depression
o Anxiety

It’s not difficult to see how relationships could be strained when one partner is experiencing many of these symptoms at different times.

Take a look at this resource, which lists many of the other TBI symptoms, such as neurological, cognitive and social.

Brain injury symptoms that change

This article also points out that the symptoms and effects of a brain injury last well beyond when the obvious injuries have healed. This is a point that brain injury attorneys must remember, as many defense lawyers and insurance companies take the approach that if you can no longer see it, it doesn’t exist, even though the devastating effects (both emotional and physical) continue long after.

While most car accident victims with TBI appear “normal,” in that they speak well and do not display obvious signs of a disabling traumatic brain injury, the effects can be severe, disabling and devastating. Even medical classifications for brain injury are misleading. A lot of people are diagnosed with “mild” traumatic brain injury. But this is a medical classification. It does not mean the person’s disabilities and impairments are also “mild.”

An additional challenge to proving TBI for brain injury attorneys is that the diagnostic testing most doctors use is an MRI or CT scan. Yet these tests do not show mild and moderate TBI and are often “normal,” as are gross neurological exams.

Here’s the full story in the New York Times: When injuries to the brain tear at hearts.

I’m glad to see the emotional toll of TBI being addressed. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that nearly 2 million people suffer TBI each year in the United States, mainly from car accidents. With so many people suffering from this debilitating injury every year, it’s important to see this population and the challenges they face being addressed in the media, so the general public can be more knowledgeable and understanding.

Steven M. Gursten is a brain injury attorney and partner of Michigan Auto Law. He is a member of the Executive Board of the American Association for Justice Traumatic Brian Injury Lawyer Litigation Group. Steve has received the highest reported trial verdict and settlement for a TBI victim in Michigan in multiple years.

Related information to protect yourself:

How common is TBI, who’s getting it and how?

Steps TBI victims must take after a car accident

Choosing a brain injury attorney in Michigan

Michigan Auto Law is the largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights. Call (800) 968-1001 to speak with one of our Michigan brain injury attorneys today.

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