You would think the prevalence of brain injury in the armed forces would lead to extensive education on the issue for our soldiers, but researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), only one in five veterans reported receiving any brain injury education while serving.
The researchers believe this data is indicative of a lack of accurate knowledge which leads to misdiagnosis or misinterpretation of symptoms that often overlap with multiple different forms of brain injury such as PTSD, TBI, and depression.
“The ultimate risk in misinterpretation is that the patient may be treated in a different direction from where they need to go,” said Cady Block, primary investigator of the study published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. “In the case of a veteran who sustains a brain injury, for example, they may be deemed to be disabled instead of integrating back into their community and their job. That direction of treatment may not look at encouraging ways to give them their life back.”
The study investigated 100 veterans and 50 of their friends or family. Both groups were able to correctly identify symptoms associated with mild traumatic brain injury, but also picked out multiple symptoms that are not considered common with TBI.
“It is just as important that patients and their support system are able to recognize not only what a brain injury is, but also what it is not,” Block said in UAB News. “Improved knowledge will mean fewer frustrations for both groups, better care overall and a brighter outlook for veterans.”
Sadly, the lack of understanding stems from where their knowledge comes from. Despite the plethora of online resources about TBI, the UAB research shows that 80 percent of the veterans studied and 79 percent of the family and friends said they did not use the internet to find out more about TBI. Instead, it appears their understanding of brain injury comes from television.
“Unfortunately, much of what they knew was based on what they witnessed on shows like Dr. Oz, Grey’s Anatomy and House,” said Block. “They have access to the VA and healthcare providers, yet the majority gets information from movies and TV dramas.”
These findings are frightening to those of us who see how Hollywood and television constantly mis-portray not just brain injury, but almost every medical condition there is to have. For some reason, it appears that many are not making the distinction between what aspects of medical dramas and daytime shows are real and what may be distorted by the lens of filmmakers.
Clearly, there needs to be a stronger push to inform everyone about the signs and symptoms of traumatic brain injury. It may seem like we are already making a strong push, but obviously there isn’t enough being done.