Invisible Injuries Plague Returning Soldiers
SLU Expert Offers Coping Strategies
For soldiers who have suffered a head injury, it can be frustrating when problems linger after returning home. Because there may be no physical signs of injury, issues like memory complaints or sleep disturbances that follow mild traumatic brain injury can be underestimated or overlooked by veterans and their families.
|P. Tyler Roskos, Ph.D.|
Each year, 1.5 million Americans suffer non-fatal brain injuries, and three-quarters of those injuries are mild traumatic brain injury, or concussion. A RAND Corporation survey of 1,965 service members who had been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan found that 19 percent reported probable traumatic brain injury.
According to P. Tyler Roskos, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuropsychology at Saint Louis University, coping with mild traumatic brain injury symptoms can be difficult when soldiers return home after combat.
"Often, servicemen and women return from duty and complain of memory and concentration problems, fatigue, headaches, depression and sleep disturbances," said Roskos. "Family members describe changes in the personality of their loved one, such as aggressiveness, irritability or hypervigilance.
"Soldiers say ‘People can't see I'm hurt,'" Roskos said. "Sometimes soldiers themselves don't see it. It can be difficult for everyone."
Roskos offers the following advice for those struggling with mild traumatic brain injury:
When it comes to mild traumatic brain injury, time is a healer. The best news is that most recovery occurs in the six months following an injury. It can be a relief, Roskos says, for veterans to know their symptoms are likely to improve. Those with head injuries should be patient with themselves, and families should be aware that time may solve some of the early frustrations after a soldier returns home.
In addition to treatment for the head injury itself, veterans should seek medical help for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well, if they occur. Both can complicate recovery, and the sooner a patient receives treatment, the more quickly life will be able to return to normal.
Talk to other vets
Talking with others with similar experiences can help, and can remind soldiers that their symptoms are common after a head injury. It's important to seek out resources in the community, such as a veteran's association.
Enlist help reentering the workforce
Consulting with a medical or rehabilitation professional can help veterans learn strategies to compensate for the effects of mild TBI that may ease the transition back to work or school. These professionals can also help them communicate with their school or employers regarding any accommodations, if necessary.
To read about a U.S. Department of Defense-funded Saint Louis University study aimed at learning more about brain injury, visit http://www.slu.edu/x31438.xml.
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious disease.