Did You Know? Learning a Language Can Help You Recover from Traumatic Brain Injury

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All of us, whether we know it or not, are temporarily abled. Anything can happen at any time, and suddenly, we have a disability. This article will look at the definition of a traumatic brain injury, then move on to the standard recovery process, and at how learning a language can help you recover from traumatic brain injury.

What is Traumatic Brain Injury?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be caused in a variety of ways, such as a violent blow or jolt to the head or body, or an “object that penetrates brain tissue.” This trauma damages the brain cells which causes brain dysfunction. This dysfunction may be temporary or permanent based on the severity of the trauma.

Every case of TBI carries with it a unique set of symptoms depending on where the damaged brain cells are located. Damage to the prefrontal cortex, for example, affects your executive functioning skills. Executive functioning skills include complex tasks like organization, problem-solving, and reasoning. Sometimes injuries aren’t immediately apparent after an accident, however. So, that’s why it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of a TBI.

The primary cognitive symptom that is commonly associated with a TBI is memory or concentration problems and mood changes or swings. There are also sensory and physical symptoms. Sensory symptoms include sensory disturbances, these are changes to your senses like the ability to hear what people are saying, but not able to understand what they are saying. Finally, some physical symptoms include problems with speech, dizziness, headaches, and fatigue.

Damaged brains and symptoms may seem overwhelming and hopeless, but the brain is moldable like plastic. Neuroscience calls this neuroplasticity; it means that your brain is developed to work, so it will find workarounds to do the same tasks. If a part of the brain is damaged, another part of the brain can take over; it just might take a little bit more time than before. Think of it like going from point A to point B, but after damage, it must go from point A to point C, to point D, and then finally to point B.

To give an example, in 1848, a man named Phineas Gage had an iron bar blown through his skull in a railroad construction accident, destroying a large part of his brain. However, he was still able to do many things because his brain found ways to compensate. Supposedly, he told the doctor “Here is business enough for you” soon after the accident. We can help our brain to make these connections by engaging in everyday activities.

The Recovery Process

After a TBI, some patients start seeing a speech-language pathologist (SLP). An SLP is a doctor who specializes in language disorders, which covers a wide range of language problems like trouble understanding others, “difficulty producing speech sounds correctly or fluently,” and communicating for social purposes.

In the beginning, SLPs generally focus on both you and your loved ones. They focus on you by trying to help you get normal responses to sensory stimulation because sensory symptoms are common in TBI. They focus on your loved ones by 1) helping them come to terms with who you are now with your possibly different personality and 2) helping them to help you practice what you are doing with the SLP.

After your sensory responses are in the normal range, the SLP moves on to help you figure out strategies that work for you for more complex tasks like executive functioning and social skills. While the SLP can help out a lot, you can also do a lot of things on your own to help you recover from a TBI.

Learning a New Language

In a case study published in the Journal “Disability and Rehabilitation,” researchers enrolled a Polish woman in an English language learning program nine months after her head injury. The program consisted of monthly meetings and lasted six months. By the end of the six months, she had learned enough to go on to more complex lexical items within English. The researchers concluded that learning another language “may positively influence emotional well-being, self-esteem, and, perhaps, recovery of quality of life.” Ultimately, they found that her memory improved long-term after the study was concluded.

One of the main benefits of learning a language is the new vocabulary might help bolster the vocabulary that was lost in the first language. If you want to learn a language for this reason, here are some things to think about

  • Studies have shown that training the language you are less proficient in results in more prominent transfer effects on your first language
  • Choosing another language that is similar in syntax, phonology, vocabulary, and meaning help.
  • Work on words that you are struggling to remember in your first language.
  • Work on remembering the meaning of words rather than the words themselves—this will help you to talk around the word if you forget it.

Conclusion

There are different ways that a TBI can affect you in your daily life, but just because you have a TBI doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. Our brains are malleable and can adapt after a TBI. Learning a language is just one of many ways to begin your journey toward recovery. Find your way and be patient.

References:

Mayo Clinic | Traumatic Brain Injury

Smithsonian.com | Phineas Gage: Neurosciense’s Most Famous Patient

ASHA | Speech-Language Pathologists

Craig Swapp | Seattle Brain Injury Lawyer

Brainline | Traumatic Brain Injury: Benefits of Speech-Language Pathology Services

Researchgate | Second language acquisition after traumatic brain injury: A case study

Science Daily | Aphasia and bilingualism: Using one language to relearn another

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