Head and brain injuries occur when you least expect them to. The seriousness can range from just a bump to a mental illness, paralysis, and even death. The minor bumps and bruises often have no long term effects, but more serious injuries often have long term or even permanent side effects. These serious head injuries often lead to a psychological disorder from either the injury itself or the aftermath of the injury (Lehr).
To understand the way an injury to the head or brain would occur, one must understand the biology of the brain and the areas that would be affected. The frontal lobe is the most anterior and it is right under the forehead. It is almost always injured because of its large size and its location near the front of the cranium. It is also easily injured because of its location near bony protrusions.
The main functions of the frontal lobe are consciousness, judgements, emotional responses, expressive language, assigns meaning to the words that are chosen, and memory for habits and motor activities. There are many problems that can be associate with a frontal lobe injury. Some of these problems can be treated while others cannot. The main difficulties are paralysis, sequencing, inability to focus on a task, mood changes, changes in social behaviour, changes in personality, difficulty expressing language, and difficulty solving problems (Nettina 1038-1039).
The paralysis is almost always permanent, while others can usually be treated. Many times when changes in personality occur they cannot be reversed because it has become a permanent part of an individual’s being.
The parietal lobes which are located near the back and top of the head have the functions of the location of visual attention, location for touch perception, goal-directed voluntary movements, manipulation of objects, the integration of different senses that allows for the understanding of a single concept (Lehr).
There are several problems that can occur from a parietal lobe injury that can, directly and indirectly, lead to a mental illness. One of the most serious side effects that can occur from a parietal lobe injury is apraxia. Apraxia is the lack of awareness of certain body parts and/or the surrounding space. This is a problem because it can lead to the inability to care for one’s self. Other problems are inability to focus attention, trouble distinguishing left from right, inability to name an object, trouble telling one object from another, and difficulties with hand and eye coordination (Lehr).
These side effects may or may not be permanent. It is all dependent on the type of injury, type of treatment available, and duration of time before treatment (Hedges and Roberts 405).
The occipital lobes are located at the back of the head. The function of the occipital lobes is vision. The observed problems are defects in vision, trouble identifying colour, word blindness, difficulty recognizing drawn objects, and trouble with reading and writing (Lehr).
The temporal lobes are located at the side of the head above the ears. The functions of the temporal lobes are hearing ability, memory acquisition, visual perceptions, and categorization of objects. The problems associated with an injury to the temporal lobe are difficulty recognizing faces, difficulty understanding spoken words, short term memory loss, interference with long term memory, increased or decreased interest in sexual behaviour, increased aggressive behaviour (Lehr).
The brain stem is one of the major parts of the brain. IT is located deep in the brain and it leads and connects to the spinal cord (Knopp, Stack, and Storrow 374). The major functions of the brain stem are breathing, heart rate, swallowing, reflexes to seeing and hearing, sweating, blood pressure, digestion, temperature, level of alertness, ability to sleep, and sense of balance. Many injuries to the brain stem can end up being fatal because of the control that it has over so many vital bodily functions (Lehr). The observed problems with brain stem injuries are decreased vital activity in breathing, swallowing food and water, problems with balance and movement, dizziness and nausea, and sleeping difficulties like insomnia and sleep apnea.
The last major part of the brain is the cerebellum. It is located at the base of the skull. It controls the functions of voluntary movement, balance and equilibrium, and some memory for reflex motor acts. The observed problems are loss of ability to coordinate fine movements, loss of ability to walk, inability to reach out and grab objects, dizziness, and slurred speech (Nettina 1040).
For doctors and nurses, it is important to have an understanding of the brain because they have a direct effect on the patient and how that patient will feel and learn. The learning process usually begins as soon a consciousness is regained in the case of a patient that has passed out. (Lehr). Another important aspect of treating and caring for an individual with a brain or head injury is to remain calm while the individual is acting out. It shows the individual what is correct to do and it also avoids negative reinforcement. These patients are often like small children throwing temper tantrum (Nettina 1041).
Head and brain injuries are a complex and interesting subject. There are so many psychological aspects that one could not cover them all in one sitting. Many patients with head and brain injuries eventually recover but most are never the same.
Knoop, Kevin J. Lawrence B. Stack, and Alan B. Storrow. Atlas of Emergency Medicine, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.
Lehr, Robert P. “Brain Function”. (Online) Available http://www.callmaer.com/cns/tbi/brain.html, 20 October 1997.
Nettina, Sandra M. Manual of Nursing Practice. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1996.
Roberts, James R. Jerris R. Hedges. Emergency Medicine, Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1998.
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