Friday, August 18, 2023

Why Brain Healthy Habits and Thinking Strategies are so Important After a Concussion

 By Doreen Bridgman, MS,CCC-SLP-CBHC

If you’ve had a concussion, you may feel as if you’ll never be the same again and you now know how impactful a concussion can be on daily life. The ongoing physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms can make everything about your life harder to manage - from dealing with the crushing headaches and fatigue, to being able to do your job the way you did before, to even feeling overwhelmed about meeting friends for dinner. But there may be something you can do to help…

By incorporating brain healthy nourishment (in the form of brain healthy lifestyle choices), and learning (and using) specific attention and memory strategies, you can optimize your recovery from concussion and improve your overall performance. You’ll simply learn how to use your brain differently… by compensating, or learning to work around your difficulties.

Here’s what we mean:

1. Nourish your brain the right way. Yes, what you eat matters! Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce brain inflammation and lead to clearer thinking. Foods rich in antioxidants like berries, dark leafy greens, and colorful vegetables can help to protect brain cells from oxidative stress. Remember to stay hydrated and maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day.


2. Sleep is essential. You know how you can feel after just one lousy night’s sleep, so you likely already know that getting the right amount of good-quality sleep is crucial for your brain to function at its best. And there are so many reasons why! Memories are consolidated (or organized) while you sleep, and this is also the time when toxins are cleared from your brain. Following a concussion, sleep patterns are often disrupted. This is a problem that can continue for months, or even years after the injury. So, it’s important to develop pattern of doable habits that promote sleep every night (this is called sleep hygiene). Start by avoiding screens for at least an hour before bedtime, and aim for at least 7 hours of sleep each night.

3. Get physical. Exercise is key, because it promotes neuroplasticity, your brain’s ability to adapt, reorganize, and form new connections. Research has shown that strength training and aerobic exercise are both important, each improving cognitive function and mood in different ways. So, it’s important to incorporate both kinds of exercise into your daily routine. Yoga and tai chi combine movement and mindfulness which can give you the benefits of exercise while also helping to decrease stress. Be sure to consult your medical provider before starting any exercise program.

4. The role of mindfulness in management of stress. Mindfulness has been shown to regulate the body’s stress response and support overall emotional well-being. A regular mindfulness practice can also help you manage internal distractions (rogue thoughts) and irritability, both of which commonly occur with post-concussion syndrome.

5. Attention and memory techniques. You may be experiencing difficulties with memory and thinking, even after completing your course of rehabilitation therapy. There are simple techniques and strategies you can learn that can help with attention and memory, and improve your ability to manage daily tasks. These strategies range from acronyms and mnemonics, storytelling, and associative memory techniques. All of these techniques (and more) are taught in the Long Live Your Brain program.

6. Social and emotional support. Staying socially active is important for your continued recovery. Engaging in social activities and connecting with friends and family provide the emotional support you need and can prevent feelings of isolation, which can negatively impact your brain health overall, further slowing your recovery from concussion. Integrating brain health strategies into your life following a concussion can increase your brain’s resilience and lead to a more complete recovery. You can find attention and memory strategies like these, in addition to more nuggets of wisdom that will teach you how to nourish and heal your brain can be found in BrainThrive’s Long Live Your Brain program. LLYB is a fun and friendly online group brain health and education program for people who want a more reliable memory and clearer thinking. The consistent implementation of these strategies, along with lifestyle choices that can support your healthy brain can lead to a brain that’s healthier, and works better for you every day - so get started today!

If you want to learn more about the Long Live Your Brain program, visit our website at www.longliveyourbrain.com.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

DOREEN BRIDGMAN (aka the Cognitive Coach) is a Speech Language Pathologist and Brain Health Coach with over 30 years of experience. Specializing in cognition, executive functioning, and pragmatics, she focuses on brain injuries, particularly post-concussion syndrome and ADHD. Doreen's roles include the Center for Cognitive Rehabilitation (UMDNJ), Center for Head Injuries-JFK, and collaboration with Neuropsychologists. Her expertise covers executive functioning, interpersonal communication, coaching individuals with ADHD, and working with clients struggling to manage daily demands. Doreen empowers clients to achieve goals through strengths and strategic development. Her passion for Brain Health lead to the establishment of BrainThrive Consulting LLC, offering online Brain Health education with Marilyn Abrahamson. 





By: Dr. Jerry Dreessen

In a common case like a patient surviving a car accident, one of my first targets is to evaluate what's happened to the inside of their head. There's a difference between the effects of a slight rear end-- Was it a high or low speed impact? Was it a T-bone? Did they experience two car accident?  Any kind of quick stop is going to cause everything to slide forward in the head and then come back-- what we call as "coup contrecoup". And it can disrupt the brain and may cause a mild hemorrhage. It can cause a little bit of bruising. Some people talk about feeling a little foggy after an accident- similar to walking into an attic with dust flying all around. That's what can happen to your brain when it starts to slap around inside the skull, just even from a mild car accident. 

There are concussion protocols that we perform in the clinic. To process this type of patient starts with a questionnaire about:

* Cognitive abilities: What are the things that they can or can't do? 

* Do they have a headache? 

* Are they having a hard time focusing? 

We also get into studying their emotional state as far as any feelings of SADNESS. Some people may have immediate reactions and seek help right away, while others come in for a consult weeks later. 


THE 12 POINT CRANIAL NERVE CHECK

A standard exam is studying a CRANIAL NERVE CHECK. Not only do you have the brain sitting in the skull with a brain stem, which can be greatly affected with a whiplash scenario, but in the floor of the skull, there's 12 sets of nerves that come out and they perform different functions. This is often overlooked.  There are many cases that do not show apparent concussion symptoms, but if they have one of the cranial nerves that doesn't work properly, this is a sure giveaway. 

We can start by helping that nerve system heal either through nutrition or through cognitive exercises but also eliminating the inflammation. Reading an MRI can be a challenge when looking for any mild type of inflammation in the brain- but with the proper diagnosis, we can reduce not only the concussion, but the possible post traumatic stress disorder and, and personality changes that can go along with it. 

This standard process of reading the performance of the cranial nerve means studying 12 different nerves. This test helps determine if there's any kind of cranial nerve loss due to a car accident or sports injuries. 

The first is the OLFACTORY nerve; this conveys the sense of smell. Some people can come in, barring the challenges of Covid symptoms and may already have loss of smell.  Otherwise, if the accident may have affected their ability to smell, that's one signal that the olfactory nerve isn't functioning properly. (2) The next nerve that we check is the OPTIC nerve and that is what transmits information including blurry vision vs. the ability to focus on an object. Retinal reaction to light gets us the pupillary response.





STUDY OF INTRACRANIAL IMPACT DISORDERS - Concussions are viewed as a mild form of traumatic brain injuries and most frequently occur following an event that involves an acceleration–deceleration mechanism without actual injury to the head, such as whiplash, or the head striking an object. As we study these, researchers and clinicians are learning that these are fairly common, but often underdiagnosed.  While the vast majority of people with concussions recover without obvious disability, people can end up with long-term cognitive, emotional and functional issues affecting quality of life – including memory issues and Alzheimer’s disease. Efforts to better predict outcome from head injuries by focusing on the age, sex, type of injury and acute assessments have led to some improvement, but still fail to predict or explain the variation in healing and outcomes. Studies in professional athletes have shown that about 80–90% are sufficiently recovered to return to playing within 7–10 days. But that means that 10-20% are not, and their recovery can take up to 3 times longer. Even taking into account variations in initial injury, this variation is difficult to explain or predict.  (see complete feature by Dr. Roberta Kline)

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