Each year an estimated 1.5 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI), ranging from concussion to severe brain injuries associated with significant disability. Interdisciplinary specialty care teams offer coordinated care through memory clinics. These specialty care clinics treat patients who have concerns after mild brain injuries to moderate and severe injuries that require long-term rehabilitation and support.
Specialty care team members help individuals suffering from long-term effects due to brain injuries. This may include neurologists, physical, occupational and speech and language therapists, physiatrists (rehabilitation specialists), neuro-ophthalmologists. They will see patients following their acute treatment in a hospital setting or inpatient rehabilitation. Some common issues that linger after TBI include problems with attention, memory or other cognitive functions. There may be persistent physical symptoms such as headache or vision problems. Individuals who experienced a TBI earlier in life and are seeing cognitive decline decades later also can come into the memory clinic for assessment and treatment.
Many people ask if previous head injuries cause their cognitive decline. Dr. Sonja Blum, neurologist and memory clinic director at Marshfield Clinic Health System, advises that head injuries are a known risk factor for developing dementia including Alzheimer’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) later in life. CTE is the neurodegenerative disease due to head trauma. It is typically due to repetitive concussive injury, such as seen in professional football players.
Memory clinics provide support through a multidisciplinary approach
A wide range of symptoms can occur following a traumatic brain injury. Each case is different depending on the type of injury, location and side effects that result. “Even if folks are not sure whether their symptoms are ‘severe’ enough, if they have a concern, it is worthwhile to investigate,” said Dr. Blum.
Brain injury patients receive a comprehensive evaluation in the memory clinic. This includes a detailed assessment of their cognitive deficits and localization of residual brain injuries. After this assessment, patients receive a personalized medication plan depending on the type of injury and symptoms. If needed, additional specialists will help patients during recovery including speech and language pathology, occupational and physical therapy. Patients , and vestibular therapy, which helps with balance and spatial orientation.
Patients who are experiencing vision problems or other eye movement abnormalities are referred to a neuro-ophthalmology specialist.
The pituitary is often affected in brain injuries. If there are any hormonal dysregulation, patients have access to neuro-endocrine specialists.
“We need a multi-disciplinary team including physicians, advance practitioners, therapists, social workers and others in order to address the various symptoms and concerns that arise depending on these multitude of factors,” Dr. Blum said.
Community resources available to support caregiver
Individuals coping with long lasting symptoms from brain injury have a broad range of needs. Because of this, memory clinics offers resources to support caregivers. Social workers help caregivers connect with resources in the community to support their loved one and their own wellbeing. This may include respite center programs where patients can go for supervised activities and social engagement. Respite services allow time for caregivers to decompress. During this time caregivers focus on their own needs while knowing their loved one is safe.
Social workers can discuss long-term needs and support options, including in-home caregiving. They can help families connect to a variety of resources provided locally through the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC).
If you have concerns about cognitive decline, learn more about memory clinic services at Marshfield Clinic Health System.