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Hospital Happenings

News | March 8, 2023

BJACH providers, patients meet TBI Awareness Month head on

By Jean Graves, Medical Readiness Command, West

March is Brain Injury awareness month and Bayne-Jones Army Community hospital is committed to protecting the health and well-being of our Soldiers assigned to the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk.

Brain health is critical to overall mission readiness, even a mild traumatic brain injury can have long-lasting effects, according to Elise Leisinger, family medicine doctor for the TBI Clinic. During the month, the TBI Clinic is educating the community about signs and symptoms of a brain injury.

“I take care of all active-duty personnel on the installation who have suffered a TBI,” she said. “If you hit your head and are on active duty, please come see us.”

Dizziness, nausea, feeling off balance, irritability, depression, irritability, sleep problems and headaches are all things associated with a TBI, she said

Capt. Amanda Thornton, simulations officer for JRTC operations group is a patient at the BJACH TBI Clinic.

Thornton said since she returned from her last deployment, she had been experiencing significant memory loss and behavioral issues.

“My husband, fed up with my irritability and mood swings, asked me to go to behavioral health to get some help,” she said. “During my intake at behavioral health, and based on my deployment history, they referred me for a sleep study and to the TBI Clinic.”

Thornton said she has been deployed several times and was in a vehicle rollover accident in 2017.

“I was really impressed with the healthcare community here, they didn’t jump straight to prescribing medication, they took the time to assess my symptoms and get to the root of the problem,” she said. “During my assessment for TBI, they sent me to occupational therapy because I was having balance issues. I was having trouble walking which was observed by others who often questioned my sobriety.”

Thornton said the accident affected her inner ear causing balance issues and overcompensation with her eyes. She said she was also diagnosed with sleep apnea.

“I wasn’t convinced when they sent me for a sleep study, but after I received the diagnosis, was hooked up to the machine and started going through cycles of sleep, I felt amazing,” she said. “If that is what sleep feels like, I knew I definitely hadn’t been getting it.”

Thornton said her increased awareness of her TBI, learning coping mechanisms and memory tools was reassuring.

“Because of my pride, I struggled with accepting it for a while,” she said. “Knowing that I’m not crazy and that it’s ok to ask for help has alleviated a lot of the stress I was dealing with.”

Capt. Christopher Julian, occupational therapist at BJACH, said he provides Soldiers with vestibular and ocular evaluation post-concussion.
According to a concussion, also known as a mild traumatic brain injury, is a head injury resulting from a hit, blast, blow or jolt to the head that may: make you feel dazed or confused; affect your ability to remember what happened, and briefly cause you to lose consciousness. All concussions are different, both in the type and severity of symptoms each person experiences. Symptoms can start immediately after the injury but may also slowly happen within the first 24 - 48 hours.

“Soldiers can have symptoms that linger post-concussion that will affect their ability to run, drive or affect other Soldier-related tasks,” he said. “I evaluate that and prescribe them with vestibular exercises to help their brain recompute and help them return to those activities.”

Julian said it’s important to discuss TBI and raise awareness about it.

“I view it as an invisible injury,” he said. “Having providers attune to signs and symptoms of a traumatic brain injury and how it can impact their daily activities is very important. A TBI can impact a Soldiers ability to do their jobs as well as affect their personal lives.”

Julian said safety is the most important way to prevent a head injury.

“But accidents happen. If you hit your head and have immediate symptoms, the best thing to do is get evaluated,” he said. “TBIs are best addressed acutely and not chronically. So don’t ignore the injury, get it evaluated by a professional.”

Leisinger said there are many resources available at the TBI Clinic.

“We want anyone who has been diagnosed with a concussion to come see us within 72-hours,” she said. “If you are experiencing any concussion-related symptoms, we will send you to optometry, audiology, for neuropsychological testing, neurocognitive rehabilitation, speech therapy or medication management. We can take care of anything you are experiencing concussion-related.”

Mary Delrie, registered nurse consultant at the BJACH TBI Clinic, said if you are experiencing symptoms come to the clinic for an evaluation.

“It’s better to get an evaluation and find out what is going on,” she said. “We get referrals from primary care and behavioral health, but also accept walk-in’s.”

Janet Baily, a psychometrists for BJACH’s TBI Clinic, administers a score of neuropsychological, psychological, personality and academic test for patients with mild to severe traumatic brain injury.

“I am also the automated neuropsychological assessment metric proctor for the clinic,” she said. “This is an important part of the TBI program because it is a cognitive baseline test required annually. So, if a patient gets a concussion, we can retest them to see if they have a cognitive issue. I also do neuropsychological testing to see if they have any cognitive issues or disabilities.”

According to Army Medicine, ANAM is a proven computer-based tool designed to detect speed and accuracy of attention, memory, and thinking ability. It records a service member's performance through responses provided on a computer. It is being conducted prior to deployment and can be used to identify and monitor changes in function. It does not diagnose any medical condition. The results may help healthcare staff compare a service member's speed and accuracy of attention, memory, and thinking ability before and after an injury.

Baily said it’s important to discuss brain injuries during the month of March and throughout the year.

“When you have a head injury, it’s important to come to our clinic so we can evaluate you and get you the treatment you need to get back to 100 percent,” she said.

Leisinger said post-concussion syndrome is a very vague term.

“At our clinic, we look at the patient from a holistic perspective and determine if the symptoms are concussion-related or from other medical problems that overlap,” she said. “PTSD, obstructive sleep apnea, primary headache and chronic pain can all be affected by TBI or could be signs of some other issue. I will spend an hour intake with each patient. We’ll go over your medical history and everything you are experiencing that may be related to a concussion.”

Leisinger said she will order labs, send patients to neurology, audiology and optometry depending on the patient to help them get to the root of their issues.

According to traumatic brain injury is a significant health issue which affects service members and veterans during times of both peace and war. The high rate of TBI and blast-related concussion events, resulting from current combat operations, directly impacts the health and safety of individual service members, and subsequently the level of unit readiness and troop retention. The impacts of TBI are felt within each branch of the service.

Editor’s Note: Click here for more information about TBI: Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence
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