Seizure Disorder and Brain Injury

November is Epilepsy Awareness Month, a time of the year to help promote awareness and educate the general public about epilepsy and seizures. One of the common challenges seen with brain injury is seizure disorder – more commonly known as epilepsy. Epilepsy and seizure disorder are terms often used interchangeably, but there are distinct differences. Seizures are the individual events of a sudden loss of control of functions associated with normal brain activity. They are sudden, temporary episodes of brain dysfunction, caused by the abrupt, non-purposeful discharge of electrical activity in the brain. Typically lasting 1-5 minutes, they are characterized by changes in sensation, emotional experience, motor control, and levels of consciousness.
Epilepsy is the general term for a variety of neurological conditions characterized by recurrent unprovoked seizures – it’s the fourth most common neurological disorder in the United States. And, approximately 110,000 people in Michigan are diagnosed with epilepsy. In about 60% of cases, there is no known cause. Among the remaining 40%, brain injury is one of the most frequent causes. Most common with brain injuries are partial seizures, which typically arise from scar tissue from the injury. Partial seizures affect only one portion of the brain and have more limited symptoms such as visual distortions, odd sensations, unexplained emotional experiences, or non-purposeful behaviors or jerking movements. Sometimes, partial seizures spread and become generalized (Grand Mal), before they resolve. Grand Mal seizures involve a loss of consciousness and uncontrolled shaking as all muscle groups receive an overload of messages for movement. If a person has more than one seizure in a short period of time without recovering consciousness, or does not resolve a seizure episode within 5 minutes, it is called Status Epilepticus – and is a medical emergency. There are many types of seizures. Any initial occurrence of a seizure warrants medical attention as it is a sign that something is not right with the brain. Common causes are electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, fever, sleep deprivation or exhaustion, a new neurological injury such as bleeding or hydrocephalus, medication or illicit drug side-effects, or genetic predisposition. Some seizures are idiopathic, not known to be caused by anything in particular. Other times, seizures may have no clear physiological component, thought to be caused by neuropsychiatric features. Careful diagnosis of new-onset seizures is critical to appropriate treatment. Approximately 10% of individuals with brain injuries severe enough to require hospitalization have seizures. Seizures at the time of injury are quite common, but are not always an indicator of later problems with seizures. Seizures associated with the time of injury possibly represent a different type of convulsive phenomena. In later appearing seizures, those with open head injuries are associated with a higher risk. There are relationships between the severity and occurrence of injuries. Individuals with a severe traumatic brain injury are 29 times more likely than the general population to have epilepsy. When seizures appear later in recovery they are often more persistent, with 80% experiencing at least one more seizure. When seizures occur, or where sufficient risk factors are present, medication may be required to prevent or control them. In about 80% of cases, seizures can be controlled with medication. For others, surgery may be used to eliminate the likely source of irritation. Behavioral strategies associated with maintaining a healthy lifestyle such as good sleep, diet, hydration, and appropriate medication use are also critical. The effects of substance misuse, like alcohol withdrawal, and misuse of some types of medicines, can also increase seizure risk. There are many implications associated with seizure disorder including safety risks, loss of driving privileges, mortality risks, mental health vulnerabilities, as well as the social stigma still unfairly endured by persons with epilepsy and brain injury. Accommodations can help minimize these influences on adjustment. Support may include allowing additional time for tasks, pacing activities to limit fatigue, managing stimulation levels from noise or distractions, facilitating transportation or providing safe activity alternatives. Such supports help keep people with brain injury and seizures active and included, participating as part of their communities. First aid for seizures is largely supportive, providing protective monitoring with vigilance to provide assistive resuscitation in extreme events. While sometimes a frightening and challenging symptom to manage, people with epilepsy and brain injury have many resources and treatment options to support the successful management of these symptoms. Web Resources: Martin J. Waalkes, Ph.D., ABPP(rp), CBIS-T
Licensed Psychologist
Director of Neuro Rehabilitation
Hope Network Neuro Rehabilitation

Now Showing: “Unmasking Brain Injury 2.0”

Behind every mask created for Unmasking Brain Injury is a survivor with a story to tell. Now in the second year of this important and successful program – we call it Unmasking Brain Injury 2.0 -- BIAMI has endeavored to give more survivors a chance to be seen and their stories heard.

For this year’s project, BIAMI partnered with Sean Bowman from Captured Screens Productions to produce videos featuring twelve survivors and their masks. When on display, the masks will have QR codes that can be electronically scanned to pull up a video of the mask’s creator. Unmasking Brain Injury 2.0 made its official debut at the 2018 Fall Conference in mid-September.

For those unfamiliar with scanning QR codes or need help downloading a QR code reader app, an instructional video is available on our YouTube channel.

Soon after our 2018 Fall Conference, we began sharing these Unmasking Brain Injury 2.0 videos via social media every Wednesday and Friday. As each video is shared, it will also be made available on BIAMI’s YouTube Channel. All twelve videos will be available on our channel by October 26 and we encourage you to view as many as possible.

A list of the featured videos, as well as the QR code reader instructional video and the Unmasking Brain Injury 2.0 videos as they become available, can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/user/BrainInjuryAssocMI/videos.

If you have an Unmasking Brain Injury mask and would like to participate in Unmasking Brain Injury 2.0, or would like to create a mask for the project, please contact Diane Dugan at

It Opened My Eyes: “Unmasking Brain Injury 2.0” Videographer Shares his Thoughts

As a videographer, a big part of what I do is capture moments and create experiences out of those moments through storytelling. As I build a story through editing, it’s crucial to carefully listen to each interview in its entirety to put together the most cohesive final product. Often times during my editing process, I cannot help but immerse myself into the story being told by that individual. Prior to each interview with the brain injury survivors, I wasn’t quite sure of what to expect, but what I learned is that you can overcome any adversity with great support and the desire to keep moving forward in spite of.

I was informed during many of the interviews that brain injuries are sometimes undetectable to the average onlooker. Through the testimonies of these survivors, I’ve witnessed the obligations they have to reinforce to others that, even after their unfortunate causes and situations, they are still human beings who are capable of joy, love, and deserving of happiness.

This project was special to me because it opened my eyes to a situation that is poorly represented and discussed. However, I am excited that these survivors have a platform such as the Brain Injury Association for Michigan to tell their story, inform the masses, and possibly give hope to other survivors just like themselves. This experience has been great for me and I am glad that I had the chance to be a part of it!

Thank you,

Sean Bowman
Captured Screens Productions, LLC

TBI Survivors and Addiction Risk

Pictured above: Angela Haas, author of blog post

You have likely dealt with substance abuse before, whether it’s in your family, a friend of a friend, or someone you are working with now. If so, you know that substance abuse has an effect on everyone, but that effect is especially dangerous for those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.

For brain injury survivors, alcohol and drugs can increase the likelihood of seizures, and can also have dangerous interactions with individuals’ prescribed medications. In addition, alcohol and drugs affect our brains differently, and can have a much more powerful effect on someone with a brain injury.

Just as importantly, alcohol and drug use may increase the likelihood of re-injury, as survivors under the influence are more likely to engage in behaviors such as impaired driving, or suffer difficulties with balance or impulsive decision making.

Some of the most bothersome cognitive impacts of TBI include issues with decision-making (mentioned above), as well as problem solving, short-term memory, low inhibition, and decreased awareness. Alcohol and drugs can exacerbate all of these symptoms, unquestionably impacting recovery -- which is why complete abstinence from alcohol and drugs is the healthiest and safest choice to aid in brain injury recovery and sustainability.

Risk Factors for Addiction

  • Alcohol/Drug use or dependence prior to obtaining their brain injury
  • History of mood disorders
  • Current depressive disorder or symptoms of depression
  • Addiction to tobacco
  • Family history of addiction
  • Poor social skills
  • Poverty
  • Early use in adolescence
  • Stress at home
  • Unhelpful support group or lack of natural supports
  • Lack of health insurance or access to health care

Questions to ask if you fear that you or someone you love may have an addiction and need support

  • Do they go through withdrawals if/when they stop using?
  • Do they have to take larger amounts or over a longer time period than intended?
  • Has their use resulted in a failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home?
  • Have they continued to use despite continuous problems with using?
  • Have they made unsuccessful attempts to cut down?
  • Do they have cravings, or a strong desire to use?
  • Have they given up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of use?
  • Do they continue to use in situations where it is physically hazardous?
  • Do they continue to use despite knowledge of having physical/psychological dependence?
  • Do they spend a great deal of their time obtaining, using, or recovering from its effects?

Want help?

There are many avenues to find support, whether one has commercial insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or no insurance at all. You can call your local Behavioral Health Authority, and talk to someone who can immediately assess your need for treatment and link you to the appropriate resources. Treatment can involve medical supervision, individual or group therapy, peer support, 12 step recovery, case management, family therapy, and psychiatric services.

Below are several links depending on your need:

If any of these apply to someone you know, show that person that you care, are concerned, and are there to support them! Understand that there are likely reasons they do what they do:

  • Self-medicate for severe/chronic pain from their injuries
  • Cope with the trauma that they have endured
  • Try to combat their symptoms of depression due to a loss they have experienced in their life
  • Escape from their new reality
  • Use due to an underlying mental health condition

You can use the resources above, or contact a professional who can help you get connected. You can also contact the BIAMI staff to help you connect with helpful resources. Stay strong, supportive, and realize that they may be doing the best they can, in this moment, to get through whatever difficulties they may be facing.

Angela M. Haas, LMSW CAADC is a licensed master’s level social worker with her certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor certification. She works with Special Tree Rehabilitation Systems in their outpatient clinic in Midland and Saginaw.

Lids for Kids

No one debates the importance of wearing a helmet when riding a bike, but hardly anyone knows just how critical this one piece of safety equipment is in preventing injury. So here’s a relevant statistic: Roughly 88% of bike-related brain injuries and deaths could be prevented by wearing a properly fitted helmet.

That’s the good news. What’s not so good is the percentage of bikers who actually wear helmets. That statistic is a sobering 18 percent. And even worse, only 15 percent of bikers under the age of 15 wear helmets.

It’s the disjunction between the effect helmets have in preventing injuries and saving lives, on one hand, and the number of riders who actually use them, on the other, that prompted the Sinas Dramis Law firm to conceive and develop the Lids for Kids program. “In serving victims of vehicle accidents, which includes bicyclists,” reported Tom Sinas of the Sinas Dramis firm, “we saw firsthand the dangers posed by forgetting or even refusing to wear a helmet. We want people to wear helmets and we know this habit must be cultivated at an early age.”

The statistics cited above are also what prompted the BIAMI’s interest in participating with Sinas Dramis as a co-sponsor. “As the conduit between brain injury survivors and Michigan’s extensive and outstanding network of brain injury professionals, we witness the impact of brain injury every day and have recognized the importance of prevention from day one,” said BIAMI President Tom Constand. “When our friends at Sinas Dramis discussed the prospect of BIAMI co-sponsoring these events, there wasn’t a second’s hesitation on our part. It completely aligns with our mission to reduce the incidence and impact of brain injury, and we’re proud to play a part in the continued and overwhelming success of this program.”

Lids for Kids is a bike helmet giveaway and helmet-fitting program that serves kids in underserved neighborhoods. Since the program began in 2003, more than 10,000 bike helmets have been donated and the event has expanded from Lansing to also include helmet giveaways, trained volunteer fittings, and bike raffles in Traverse City and Grand Rapids. Recent events have even become community fun fests, with face-painting booths, prizes, police and fire department activities for kids, mascot visits, and live radio remote broadcasts. This caliber of success for Lids for Kids would not be possible without the support of local partners – BIAMI members Agevix in Traverse City, Origami in Lansing, and Mary Free Bed and Hope Network in Grand Rapids – not least because their staff member volunteers play key roles in the continued growth of this amazing program.

2018 has been the program’s most successful year to date with a combined total of over 1500 helmets given away and properly fitted. That’s a statistic worth bragging about, which is why the BIAMI would like to thank all Lids for Kids event sponsors, partners, and volunteers – with a very special thank you for the foundational efforts of Sinas Dramis and their ongoing and very much hands-on work in program administration, logistics, personnel, and financial support!

There’s clearly a long way to go in promoting widespread bike helmet use and ultimately reducing the number of bicyclist injuries and deaths, but efforts such as Lids for Kids are indeed having an impact on the statistics and keeping our very youngest riders in particular safe from bike-related head injuries.

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Eisenhower Center
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Lightouse Neurological Rehabilitation Center