Both PTSD and TBI are Invisible Injuries which have both distinct and overlapping symptoms. Here’s an overview of both conditions.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is the body and mind’s response to a traumatic event and with both body and mind involved, PTSD is a psychological and neuro-endocrine (or hormonal) response to perceived danger. Symptoms may include avoidance, isolation, emotional numbness, flashbacks, and night terrors or insomnia. There may also be a startle response and hypervigilance, or unusual aggression. Reliving the trauma can affect the entire household. Treatments vary depending on severity and symptoms and may include medication, specific counseling therapies, or in combination with stress-relieving complementary or alternative treatments.
Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI, is actual physical or biological damage to the brain, and treatment may be complex depending on the severity and part of the brain injured. Symptoms may include headaches, fatigue, blurred vision, dizziness and balance issues, restlessness and agitation. Most often, the family notices TBI when memory and concentration issues complicate the family relationship and communication. While driving, suddenly he or she doesn’t remember how to get home, may have anger outbursts with unfiltered speech or personality changes — leaving the veteran wondering what is wrong with everyone around them –and the family walking carefully on eggshells. TBI may not show symptoms immediately, and could be initially undiagnosed. If unusual, agitated, or confused behavior continues, please seek an evaluation from a medical professional.
PTSD/TBI may occur together and share certain symptoms. Mood changes, changes in focus and concentration are common in both. Both share sleep difficulties; with either too much or too little sleep, exhausting the vet — and the family. Recognizing that something is “different,” coupled with relationship changes lead many families to seek treatment only after quality of life has deteriorated at home. With brain injury, neurological and cognition testing will determine the care path and new treatments are showing promise. Often, the most difficult step is for the caregiver to convince the vet there is something organically wrong. It can be a relief after the fact, but challenging to initially seek care.
New treatment options such as Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy or HBOT may help both TBI and PTSD, as can certain medications and alternative therapies such as mindfulness, EFT, yoga, golf/sports therapy and service animals depending on the severity of symptoms. Be diligent and persistent when you feel something is “off”, keep a journal or list of behaviors or other changes and know that help and improvement exists with understanding and professional help.