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Traumatic Brain Injury: What Is It, and How Does It Damage Your Life?

Traumatic brain injuries can occur in accidents, from slips and falls to auto crashes. When they occur, they often impact every area of the victim’s life, since they can have physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. Living with traumatic brain injury can pose a difficulty for the victim and the victim’s friends and family members.

If you suffer a traumatic brain injury in an accident due to the negligence of another party, you may claim compensation for those injuries.

How Does Traumatic Brain Injury Occur?

In a traumatic brain injury, the force that damages the brain tissue must come from an external source.

Traumatic brain injury occurs due to trauma to the head—most of the time, because the victim’s head slams directly into a hard object. However, a jolt to the head or body can cause a traumatic brain injury, since it can cause the brain to hit the inside of the skull. Trauma that causes an object to go through brain tissue can also lead to traumatic brain injury.

Minor traumatic brain injury generally causes only temporary problems, though symptoms may linger for a year or more after the initial accident. More severe traumatic brain injury, on the other hand, can cause symptoms that may continue for the rest of the victim’s life.

What Are the Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury?

Traumatic brain injury involves a range of symptoms. The brain controls all of the body’s processes, including thought patterns, focus, and emotional regulation. Disruption to the brain can, therefore, result in serious and ongoing challenges for the victim.

Physical Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury

Most often, the first sign of traumatic brain injury can occur when a victim loses consciousness at the accident scene. Some traumatic brain injury victims may lose consciousness for a long time, while others may have only a brief period of unconsciousness. Not all victims of traumatic brain injury will lose consciousness, however—and some may not remember the loss of consciousness that occurred at the time of the accident, especially if they also suffered from memory loss.

Traumatic brain injury may also cause other physical symptoms.

  • Changes to the Victim’s Sensory Perception. Some victims with traumatic brain injury suffer immense changes in sensory perception. Sometimes, those involve symptoms like ringing in the ears or tunnel vision. Other times, traumatic brain injury may change how the victim perceives certain sensations, including heat and cold or pain.
  • Changes in the Victim’s Sleep Patterns. Getting adequate sleep can make a huge difference in overall cognitive performance, alertness, and ability to learn new things. Unfortunately, victims of traumatic brain injury often suffer from substantial changes in their sleep patterns. Some victims struggle with ongoing insomnia: they may have a hard time falling asleep at all or, once they fall asleep, staying asleep. Other victims, however, have the opposite problem: they may have an increased need for sleep as a result of their injuries.
  • Headache. Many victims notice a headache immediately after suffering a traumatic brain injury. Others may find that the injury continues to cause more frequent headaches long after the initial injury.
  • Nausea and Vomiting. The immediate impact of traumatic brain injury may result in nausea or vomiting at the accident scene. Some victims may also suffer from ongoing dizziness or vertigo, which can cause an increased likelihood of nausea and vomiting at other times.

Cognitive Challenges Associated with Traumatic Brain Injury

Many victims with TBI find that the cognitive challenges associated with their injuries cause some of the biggest challenges they may face as they move forward with their recoveries.

Many patients with traumatic brain injury have to relearn how to cope within their new limitations, especially if they have lifelong impacts related to their injuries.

Problems with Focus and Concentration. Many of the tasks that people must engage in daily require a high degree of focus. It may take focus, for example, to sit behind a computer screen and complete a job, or to complete a complicated mechanical installation. Unfortunately, one of the biggest impacts to traumatic brain injury victims occurs as the ability to focus or concentrate on the task at hand suffers serious damage. Many victims not only have trouble dealing with their usual work responsibilities, they may also face severe challenges in focusing on leisure activities. Video games, watching television, or reading a book may seem entirely out of reach, especially if the victim has few coping mechanisms in place to deal with that lack of focus.

The lack of focus suffered by traumatic brain injury victims can also make it very difficult to hold conversations, which can cause victims to struggle to maintain their usual relationships with loved ones. Often, conversations with the victim may seem disjointed and difficult to follow, especially as new thoughts occur or distractions break in.

Memory Loss. When most people think of memory loss associated with traumatic brain injury, they frequently focus on the challenges associated with the loss of long-term memory: the challenges frequently posed in popular media that deal with head injuries. Many victims do suffer that loss of long-term memory. Frequently, the accident itself and the days and weeks surrounding it will disappear from the victim’s memory. In more severe cases, the victim may lose other long-term memories, including memories of friends and family members.

Another great challenge for many traumatic brain injury victims, however, includes the loss of short-term memory. Short-term memory helps people recall why they walked into a room, helps them focus on a task, or gives them information about the conversation they just had with a friend or colleague. The loss of short-term memory can make it very difficult for the victim to retain that information. Many traumatic brain injury victims grow increasingly frustrated as the loss of short-term memory makes it difficult for them to locate objects, including things they might have held just moments before, or complete basic tasks, follow stories, or keep track of which items on a list they have completed.

Confusion and Disorientation. Even minor traumatic brain injury can cause obvious confusion and disorientation at the scene of the accident. In fact, in some cases, traumatic brain injury victims may appear almost drunk as they wander about the scene, seemingly unaware of what just happened or what they need to do next to report the accident and move forward.

For victims with more severe traumatic brain injuries, however, that confusion and disorientation may not abate. Many victims struggle with ongoing confusion, growing disoriented very easily when exposed to unfamiliar stimuli or situations.

Emotional Challenges Associated with Traumatic Brain Injury

The brain not only controls thoughts, habits, and physical perceptions of the world, it controls emotions.

As a result, many victims with traumatic brain injury struggle with ongoing emotional difficulties and disruption following their accidents.

  • Heightened Depression and Anxiety. Both depression and anxiety may cause symptoms that can make it very difficult to function normally. Unfortunately, victims with TBI have an increased risk of depression and anxiety, not just because of the overall challenges they may face, but because of the changes caused to the brain as a result of those injuries. Both depression and anxiety can have their own set of sleep disturbances, and they may cause the victim to struggle to get out and take on tasks that they commonly managed before the accident.
  • Inappropriate Emotional Reactions and Expressions. Some victims with severe traumatic brain injury may have seemingly inappropriate emotional reactions to basic stimuli. Often, they may respond with an emotion that seems completely out of keeping with the stimuli that caused the response. For example, someone who should experience something as funny could take it as an insult or even burst into tears. Those emotional reactions can become difficult to predict and process, and can leave the victim feeling even more out of sorts.
  • Enhanced Emotional Responses. Many victims with traumatic brain injury will experience emotions more intensely after their injuries. They can’t always keep emotional responses normal, and they may fly off the handle much more easily than before. Sometimes, these changed reactions can make it very difficult for victims with traumatic brain injury to maintain relationships, even with people they may have interacted with frequently in the past.
  • Personality Changes. Sometimes, the personalities of traumatic brain injury victims change. Those personality changes can permanently alter how they interact with friends and loved ones, leading to emotional division.

Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury in Children

Children often have different responses to traumatic brain injury than adults. They may not have words for what they have experienced, and it may be more difficult to see signs of traumatic brain injury in a child.

Loss of Interest in Activities

Many children with traumatic brain injury will show a complete lack of interest in activities that they once enjoyed. They may completely ignore toys they once played with frequently or show no interest in engaging with friends, even close friends or family members. This may accompany general lethargy or appear as restlessness or inability to settle on a task.

Changes in Emotional State

Often, children who have suffered traumatic brain injuries will show one of two key changes in their overall emotional states. First, they may show a high degree of irritability, especially one out of character for the child. Children with TBI may snap over little things or get upset very easily. Second, the child may become very upset and start crying inconsolably. Adults may have no idea what may have triggered the outburst and might not have the ability to control the child.

Changes in Eating Habits

Often, a child who has sustained traumatic brain injury will show changes in eating habits. A nursing baby might refuse to take the breast, while an older child might show no interest in even favorite foods or seemingly struggle to eat anything at all. A child who refuses to eat after a blow to the head should always receive a full evaluation by a doctor as soon as possible.


Sometimes, head injuries in children can trigger seizures. Some seizures occur as jerking movements of the body. Others, however, simply seem to involve a loss of attention, including staring off into space while remaining unresponsive. It can be difficult to identify some seizures immediately, especially if the child has never had them. However, any changes in a child’s normal behavior should warrant a trip to the doctor for a full exam.

Changes in Attention Span or Ability to Focus

Joseph L. Benson II
Joseph L. Benson II, Brain Injury Lawyer

Like adults, children who suffer traumatic brain injury may have notable changes in their ability to focus on the task in front of them. Many people, however, will write off that lack of focus as simple childlike behavior. A child who experiences immense changes in their ability to focus after an accident could have a traumatic brain injury.

If you or your child suffered a traumatic brain injury because of another driver’s negligence, a lawyer can file a claim on your behalf to seek compensation for your injuries. Contact an experienced traumatic brain injury attorney to learn more about your right to compensation following a serious accident.

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