By Mira Brody EBS STAFF
BOZEMAN – This week, the Brain Injury Alliance of America will recognize Concussion Awareness Day on Sept. 17, and a Bozeman-based non-profit is shining a light on recognition and resources to honor the cause.
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. The movement can result in the brain bouncing around or twisting in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes damaging brain cells.
Six years ago, Cathy Fisher, a speech-language pathologist and the founder of Neuro Rehab Associates in Bozeman, formed the Concussion Resource Center. Since then, the center has been arming survivors of concussions with the resources they need to get back to work and doing the things they love.
The center offers access to resources such as doctors and specialists, scholarships for financial assistance during recovery, and research. They also offer group “Community Walks,” adaptive yoga and iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation, that help patients heal and cope with ongoing concussion symptoms. A lot of times, says Fisher, it helps patients just to connect with a community that has been through the same experiences.
“One of the reasons I developed the Concussion Resource Center specifically, is that there’s a lot [of information] out there for brain injuries, but they look at brain injuries in general, and not concussions,” Fisher said. “Concussions are just a different animal.”
Resources for traumatic brain injuries include the Brain Injury Association of America and the Brain Injury Alliance of Montana, and although a concussion is a type of TBI, they are harder to detect and sometimes result in more cognitive issues.
Someone who’s suffered a concussion may experience fatigue, trouble concentrating, memory loss, nausea and loss of balance. While patients often have to adapt their lives during concussion recovery, most of these symptoms are undetectable to the outsider, making many suffer from feelings of isolation and frustration.
Concussions don’t show up on CT or MRI scans. The physical effects of a concussion are microscopic and take place in the chemical makeup of the brain rather than the physical makeup.
As Fisher says, they are “not as well understood as a heart attack.”
Concussions, and TBIs in general, are also very prevalent in Montana, according to the Brain Injury Alliance of Montana. In addition to car accidents and slipping on the snow or ice in the winter time, Fisher says, Montanans love to recreate, and a lot of brain injuries are caused by rock climbing, biking, skiing and other outdoor sports.
“I see a lot of concussions here in the activities people are involved in,” said Hope Sharr, a board member of the Concussion Resource Center and an occupational therapist practicing at Neuro Rehab Associates and Home Health in Gallatin County. “They can have pretty serious impacts on people’s lives and it’s kind of hidden that not everyone can see right away.”
Ultimately, Sharr hopes her work helps concussion victims get back to doing what they love to do, and those who know someone who is recovering from a concussion understand how they can help.
“Even though you might not be able to see it, their brains are moving at a million miles an hour and they’re trying to sort out all that information,” Sharr said. “So just ask questions and be patient.”
If you are concerned that you or a loved one has suffered from a concussion, Fisher says it doesn’t always warrant a trip to the emergency room.
First, pay attention to their symptoms. If their speech is garbled, or they are loosing feeling or experiencing paralysis in any part of their body, go to the emergency room. If they are coherent, have them contact their primary care doctor for a visit and pay attention to common, ongoing symptoms of a concussion.
If you or someone you love is recovering from a concussion, visit concussionresourcecenter.org for more information.
Strategies for coping with a recent concussion
1. Get seven to nine hours of sleep per night and keep a consistent sleep schedule.
2. Maintain good nutrition and hydration.
3. Pace yourself, take breaks and rest. Fatigue is a common symptom.
4. Get regular exercise as long as your symptoms do not increase.
5. Temporarily reduce your school or work hours to get the rest you need.
*From the concussionresourcecenter.org