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whats the difference between a concussion and actual brain damage?

Posted Sep 03 2011 10:07am
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This question was asked recently in a search engine, and the person who asked it ended up here on this blog. A lot of people have been searching for concussion information, some worried about brain damage…. and worried about becoming stupid as a result of their concussion.

Concussion, while technically a brain injury, can vary in its severity, as well as the outcome. You just can’t say, from one person to the next, whether or not a person sustains lasting and significant brain damage as a result of a concussion. Some people heal relatively quickly and show no signs of injury after the fact. Others heal more slowly and experience some changes, but get back to their lives without huge impact. Still others struggle for a long time after their injury and have considerable difficulties well into their future.

It’s very individual, and it’s also very unpredictable. That’s what makes concussion and brain injury so frustrating — and interesting at the same time.

The thing is, you have to factor in neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to shift and change and “remap” itself. Contrary to what we’ve been told for many, many years, the brain actually does change, and damage can be overcome. There are numerous stories about people who overcome serious neurological problems to live incredible lives. The book The Brain that Changes Itself (click here to buy it) is a great example of how the fact of neuroplasticity can trump the impact of neurological problems — some of them acquired.

See, here’s the thing for me — even in the face of concussion, even in the face of brain damage, the fact of the matter is that you can overcome a huge amount of difficulty by proper management of outcomes. Over at The Concussion Blog , they talk about that a lot — the problem isn’t concussion (it happens), the problem is managing it when it happens. It’s the same with any brain injury, I think. Brain injuries happen. TBI happens. Sh*t happens. We often have no control whatever over that.

What we DO have control over, is how we respond to it. And when we respond with educating ourselves and coming up with smart and common-sense responses to the issues, rather than running in circles, or running in fear, we improve our chances of a positive outcome dramatically.

Think about it, folks — concussions and traumatic brain injuries have been happening since the beginning of time. And yes, we’re still here. We’re still pluggin’ right along. We don’t have to curl up in a ball and give up. We don’t have to say, “Oh, I’m brain damaged – that’s it, then. I’ll just have to give up on ever having a normal life.” … or “Oh, you’ve had a TBI, and that’s it – you’re f’ed up and you’ll never change.”  Both of these statements are based on fear and ignorance, and a real lack of knowledge about what the human spirit is capable of doing.

The human spirit is capable of so much, and so long as we have that — and an earnest desire to improve and work towards something positive — we still have hope.

Ultimately, the difference between concussion and brain damage might not matter so terribly much. Of course, severity plays a role. But attitude has a lot to do with it, too. Both of them (regardless of severity) can be sidelining, if you decide that they mean you’ve got problems that will never go away, and the challenges are more than you can take. If you decide that all hope is lost, and it’s pointless to pursue any sort of recovery, that you need to just accept your “new self” as you are and not reach for something bigger and better, and you refuse to adopt different ways of reaching the goals that matter so much to you, then ultimately there probably isn’t that much difference between concussion and brain damage. The effects can be similar, if not the same. A lot of it depends on how you approach it.

Now, I’m not saying that concussion and brain injury are laughing matters, or you can just shine them on and pretend they never happened. Brain injury introduces permanent structural changes to your brain… and concussion can, too. The thing is, the brain is an awfully big place with a whole lot of potential for change. And if we just give up, we never give ourselves (and our loved ones) the opportunity to learn and grow and adapt and have all the life that is possible for us and them.

Brain injury changes a lot. Concussion can change a lot, too (see The Biography of a Teenage Concussion for more discussion of that – it’s a new blog I just discovered recently). But if we stay flexible and focused, we can do a tremendous amount to overcome whatever new challenges stand in our way.

whats the difference between a concussion and actual brain damage? Sometimes, it’s all about the attitude.

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