Victims of traumatic brain injuries are sometimes frustrated or alarmed because they are sent to so many different medical specialists. While it can be annoying for the patient to see so many doctors, it is necessary because the brain is the most complex and important organ in the body – it is our “control center”. Because the brain affects and controls everything from our toes to our nose, a brain injury can affect virtually any part of the body. It is not uncommon for traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients to need treatment and evaluation from doctors whose specialty involves parts of the body that are seemingly unrelated to the brain injury. These other specialists can provide real benefits to the patient in terms of healing and returning to normal functioning.
Listed below are some of the most common types of health professionals that may be involved in treating victims of traumatic brain injuries. This list is not intended to be exhaustive because other specialists may be required in specific cases. When the injuries are not as complex or profound, the TBI patient may receive treatment from only a few of the specialists identified below.
Neurologist: Neurologists specialize in diagnosing and treating disorders of the nervous system including the brain and the spine. The neurologist will frequently be the lead doctor in organizing the treatment for the patient.
Neuropsychologist: Neuropsychologists are psychologists who have completed special training in the neurobiological causes of brain disorders and who specialize in diagnosing and treating these illnesses by using a predominantly medical (as opposed to psychoanalytical) approach.
Neurosurgeon: Neurosurgeons are doctors who have completed a five or six-year residency that focuses on the surgical treatment of patients with neurological conditions. Neurosurgeons may perform surgery on the brain or spine.
Neuroradiologist: Neuroradiologists are doctors who specialize in the use of radioactive substances, x-rays and scanning devices to diagnose and treat diseases and conditions of the nervous system. A neuroradiologist may focus on clinical imaging, therapy, and the science of the central and peripheral nervous system, including the brain, spine, head and neck
Psychologist: A psychologist studies the mind and emotions and how they affect behavior. In many traumatic brain injury cases, the victim will have issues with depression, anger or other emotional issues. These symptoms may be the result of organic changes in the brain or these symptoms may be reactions to the life changes that are a result of the injury.
Speech Language Pathologist: Speech-language pathologists assess, diagnose, treat and help to prevent disorders related to speech, language, cognitive-communication, voice, swallowing and fluency. Speech-language pathologists work with people who cannot produce speech sounds; those with problems understanding and producing language; and those with cognitive communication impairments, such as attention, memory and problem solving disorders. They also work with people who have swallowing difficulties. TBI victims sometimes have difficulties with speech, language or sound.
Occupational Therapist: Occupational therapists use assessment and treatment to develop, recover, or maintain the daily living and work skills of people with a physical, mental, or cognitive disorder. An occupational therapist can help a TBI victim recover the skills necessary to return to work or normal day-to-day activities.
Physical Therapist: Physical therapists are health care professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility. Often they focus on improving patient mobility and function without surgery or medication.
Recreation Therapist: therapy based on engagement in recreational activities (as sports or music) especially to enhance the functioning, independence, and well-being of individuals affected with a disabling condition.
Audiologist: Audiologist are trained to evaluate hearing loss and related disorders, including balance (vestibular) disorders and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and to rehabilitate individuals with hearing loss and related disorders. Victims of traumatic brain injuries sometimes suffer from balance issues, sound sensitivity, or tinnitus.
There are other specialists that may need to be consulted depending on the brain injury symptoms. Often, a neurologist will serve as the quarterback of the treatment team and can recommend other specialists to assist the brain injury victim.
In lawsuits involving traumatic brain injuries, it is vitally important that the patient’s personal injury lawyer work closely with the appropriate medical experts to understand the full scope of the patient’s injuries and losses. Attorneys must take the time to fully understand and develop the information necessary to help a jury understand the breadth and depth of the patient’s injuries. Juries can miss the seriousness of traumatic brain injuries if they do not have the guidance from an experienced traumatic brain injury lawyer who can explain the significance of the patient’s internal injuries.