Sports, falls, and accidents can lead to traumatic brain injury (TBI) if you were hit on the head, suddenly jerked, or if your brain was penetrated by a foreign object. A mild TBI is often called a concussion and is rarely life-threatening. At the time of the incident, you may have experienced a short loss of consciousness (a few seconds to a few minutes) or perhaps felt dazed or disoriented (but no loss of consciousness). In the hours to days after the injury, you may experience headaches, nausea or vomiting, problems sleeping (either more or less than usual), or dizziness. You may also notice odd sensations, like ringing in your ears or blurred vision, and you might have a hard time concentrating or remembering information you just learned. Children with mild TBI might seem more irritable and inconsolable, may have sleep disturbances and lack of appetite, or may seem drowsy and less interested in toys. In most cases, these effects will pass 7-10 days after the initial injury occurred, with no lingering deficits.

A more serious accident may result in a moderate or severe traumatic brain injury. In these cases, loss of consciousness may last from several minutes to several hours. You may have strong headaches that get worse over time and more persistent nausea and vomiting. You may experience seizures or convulsions, loss of coordination, and numbness in the extremities. Following the injury, you may feel confused and agitated. You may not remember the incident that caused the injury, and you may have slurred speech. Longer-term cognitive problems may arise, including difficulty communicating, difficulty learning and reasoning, and difficulty organizing and problem solving. You may find yourself making bad or hasty decisions or feeling moody or anxious. Some effects may last for a few weeks to a few months after the event, and other effects may be permanent.

In all of these cases—but especially after a moderate or severe TBI—a good rehabilitation program is essential to maximize functioning. And a good rehabilitation program starts with a good, comprehensive assessment. Data from the evaluation can help estimate your functioning before the injury (based on skills that are unlikely to change following a TBI) and compare that to any declines you may be experiencing after the injury. The data will document the severity and pervasiveness of deficits and will also document continuing strengths, which will be critical in helping you regain functionality. Neuropsychologists can also assess someone’s trajectory over time, as rehabilitation continues.