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The human brain is the motherboard of the body, without which the body is no more than a vegetable. It emits and receives electrical messages to and from the body, through a complex maze of neurons. In simple words, the brain makes the body functional.
Moreover, the brain is the command center that regulates all your sentient experiences. It regulates your thoughts, memory, speech, comprehension, emotion, vision, touch, motor skills, hearing, respiration, digestion, physiological function, heartbeat, and virtually every process that makes life possible.
The Two Sides of the Brain
The human brain is divided in the middle into two symmetrical halves, namely, the right cerebral hemisphere and the left cerebral hemisphere. The left part of the brain governs the movement on the right side of the body, whereas the right hemisphere directs the motor function of the left side of the body.
In the overwhelming majority of people, the left brain is responsible for receiving, organizing, and distributing analytical, logical, and verbal signals. On the other hand, the right side of the brain is responsible for creative, emotional, and visuospatial intelligence.
However, certain functional areas are common between the two hemispheres. For instance, both sides work together for language processing, understanding, reasoning, and organizing words and sentences to make communication possible.
In general, left-brain dominance makes one more objective, whereas right-brain dominance makes one more subjective. By the same logic, injury to either side of the brain also results in different types of dysfunctionalities.
What Happens When the Brain Is Injured?
There is no set prognosis for brain injuries, as it tends to vary depending upon the cause, severity, and part of the brain affected. That said, the effects of a brain injury are usually unpredictable and complicated.
Brain injury causes glitches in the communication between brain cells. The damaged nerve cells are unable to relay and receive information to and from each other in the normal way.
As a result, the affected individual is unable to process information and respond accordingly. This can alter the way you think, act, and feel. Moreover, as your brain controls your body movement and sensory processes, the injury can disrupt your physical and emotional functioning as well.
Types of Brain Injury
Brain injuries can be broadly classified into:
- Congenital injuries, which are present at birth
- Non-congenital or acquired brain injuries (ABI), which occur after birth
Note: The distinction between the two is often blurred.
1. Congenital brain injury
Congenital brain injury refers to a brain defect or disorder that occurs while the baby is inside the womb or just after birth.
Multiple factors can interrupt the development of the fetal brain during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester, resulting in brain abnormalities or defects. Like all other brain injuries, a baby may or may not outgrow the congenital brain damage. Cerebral palsy is a prime example of a congenital brain injury.
2. Acquired brain injury
In general discourse, brain injuries mostly refer to any kind of brain damage acquired in one’s lifetime due to an illness or accident.
- Traumatic brain injury: As the name suggests, traumatic brain injury (TBI) refers to any kind of damage caused to the brain by an external force. Examples of TBI include road traffic accidents, assaults, falls, and accidents at home or work. (1)
- Non-traumatic brain injury: This kind of injury is caused by internal factors that affect brain function or pathology. Examples of non-traumatic brain injury include tumor, stroke, brain hemorrhage, and encephalitis.
Right-Sided Brain Injury
The right side of the brain controls the movement of the left half of the body, and it is concerned with the following cognitive processes or neural abilities:
- Visual awareness
- Imagination skills
- Intuitive decision making
- Emotional intelligence
- Elementary math, which includes rough estimations and comparisons
- Spatial abilities
- Facial recognition
- Processing non-verbal cues such as facial expressions
- Language interpretation, which means understanding both the speaker’s context and tone
- Music awareness
- Estimating 3D forms
- Interpreting social cues
- Comprehending visual imagery to give meaning to what one sees
- Structuring, organizing, and articulating thoughts and ideas (2)
Naturally, any damage to the right cerebral hemisphere can compromise these functions to varying degrees. The extent of the right hemisphere damage (RHD) will determine the severity and type of the problems that will result from it.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), an injury to the right brain can disrupt your thinking and communication abilities, without you even realizing it. (3)
The most common problems that occur after a right-sided brain injury include:
- Weakness, numbness, or paralysis in the left hand, arm, or leg or the left side of the face
- Inability to focus or pay attention
- Struggle with social interactions
- Lack of awareness about appropriate social behavior
- Feeling lost
- Difficulty expressing and understanding emotions appropriately
- Issues with basic reasoning, problem-solving, and decision making
- Impaired vision on the left side
- Memory lapse
- Lack of insight, such that the person may remain oblivious to the fact that his/her problems are causing trouble at home, school, or work
- General disorientation, such as problems knowing the current date, time, or location
Left-Sided Brain Injury
Unlike the right side of the brain, which is mainly fantasy-oriented and has a creative bent, the left hemisphere is reality-oriented and far more analytical, methodical, sequential, and logical.
While the right brain emphasizes possibilities and intuition, the left brain looks for order, pattern, and strategies to solve problems. The left side of the brain regulates the movement for the right half of the body and specializes in the following spheres:
- Computation skills
- Logical analysis
- Scientific skills
- Structuring, interpreting, and articulating verbal or written language (4)
A person who has suffered a life-sided brain injury may exhibit one or more of the following symptoms depending upon the extent of the damage:
- Compromised analytical skills (5)
- Problems with chronology (in order of time, cause, and effect)
- Problems in dealing with numbers and, by extension, matters concerning money
- Slow in terms of both timing or speed of skills and mental acuity
- Unusually insecure, anxious, and withdrawn behavior
- Increased mood swings and emotional outbursts
- Confusing left with the right
- Aphasia, which is a language deficit that hampers the ability to read, speak, write, and listen
- Motor apraxia, which is the inability to perform purposeful movements even though the muscles and senses are working fine
- Verbal apraxia, a motor speech impediment that causes difficulty in coordinating the movement of the mouth to form words or sounds
- Anomia, which refers to the inability to retrieve the most basic information, such as the names of friends, family, or everyday objects
Treatment for Brain Injuries
Treatment for brain injuries mostly focuses on rehabilitating the brain to adopt alternative ways of working around the damage, rather than undoing the damage.
In some cases, the patient may recover swiftly and completely, whereas others may require a lifelong process of treatment and rehabilitation. The length, success, and rate of recovery will mostly depend on the amount of inflammation and damage caused by the injury.
In severe cases, the treatment is aimed at:
- Minimizing the long-term impact of brain injury
- Assisting the patient and his/her family in coping with any remaining disabilities (6)
Can the Brain Heal After Being Injured?
Episodic loss of consciousness or blackouts, compromised memory function, personality changes, and partial or complete paralysis is common in the aftermath of a brain injury, which may or may not get better with time.
Injured brain tissue might heal over time if the damage is not too severe. However, if the neural cells are seriously damaged, destroyed, or decimated, it is unlikely that new cells will form in their place.
In most cases, the brain adapts itself to work around the injured tissue by redirecting information to the healthier parts of the brain. The possibility of complete recovery cannot be guaranteed.
In general, the left side of the brain dominates control over language, while the right side is responsible for artistic abilities. Any damage to either side of the brain can affect its respective function.
The healing and recovery from brain damage depend upon its severity. Treatment is generally focused on rehabilitating the brain to find alternative pathways and resume normal function.