Heads Up Alaska: Brain Age
Does age play a factor when you suffer a traumatic brain injury?
ANCHORAGE- Go to any park on a sunny day and you will see the many differences between children and adults. But what about when your brain experiences a traumatic injury? Does age play a factor?
When you suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI), everything changes regardless of age. Common symptoms from a TBI include changes in your social circles, how your body works, the way you see yourself, the way you behave, the way you learn, even your attention span changes, and the most common change is your ability to remember things.
As an adult, Jeffry Kellerman suffered a traumatic brain injury from a car accident. It triggered changes in his memory and his behavior. “A lifetime friend would tell me my birthday is tomorrow. In the amount of time it took me to turn away from them, after them telling me, it was gone,” Kellerman said.
Lexi Stewart said, “At first I couldn’t even read. I still have a hard time with numbers.”
The Service High School teen said her ability to learn changed after she suffered a TBI during a flag football practice. “Math is difficult so I have to do easier classes now. Numbers just don’t make sense. Can’t grasp algebra, formulas… those are hard for me,” said Stewart.
Anchorage School District nurse Panna Jarussi said there are more long-term repercussions when a child sustains a traumatic brain injury versus an adult. She said a child’s brain is still developing physiologically, emotionally and structurally.
“Common sense prevails. If you damage something when it’s still developing, it’s forever changed and may not ever get to its potential,” Jarussi said.
Developmental changes such as missing milestone moments are one of the big differences for children who suffer a TBI according to Jarussi. As for adults, she said it's denial.
“Where an adult, I will just take some Motrin, or take some medication, or do something to make the symptoms go away, and finally when its incapacitating enough… they are like…well, maybe I need to do something about this now,” Jarussi said.
As adults age, their brain shrinks. Dr. Tim Cohen with Alaska Regional Hospital compares it to a shoe in a shoebox. “When most of us are babies and as we grow into young adults, our brain fills the entire cranial vault so the shoes are appropriate size in the shoe box. I like to say, as you get older the shoe box size remains the same but the shoes get smaller,” he said.
The shrinking of the brain increases the risk of trauma to the brain when injured. There is a lot more room for an adult brain to move around in and suffer a TBI.
Another difference when it comes to a TBI and age is who’s supporting you.
Jarussi said adults have to advocate for themselves whereas children have a network of support. “For the child, you have school nurses, parents, people that care, pediatricians, ECT. For adults, as with any illness, are going to have to advocate, they are going to have to go forward and say… I’ve hit my head hard and I can’t do my work, can’t focus when I drive… things aren’t the same,” she said.
To view all of KTVA's stories about traumatic brain injury in our Heads Up Alaska series, click here.