Brain Injury Survivor's Guide

Brain Injury Terminology

Brain injury comes with its own vocabulary. Medical professionals will use terms and medical records will include terminology that can be quite confusing to family members who have been thrust into this new and discomforting world.

This glossary is, by no means, complete with every medical terms you may hear. It includes words and definitions that you are most likely to encounter.

acalculia - unable to perform simple arithmetic calculations

affect - observable emotional condition of a person at a particular point in time

agnosia - unable to recognize familiar objects

agraphia - unable to express thoughts in writing

alexia - unable to read

amnesia - lack of memory about certain events during a particular time period

anomia - unable to recall names of objects

anoxia - lack of oxygen (You will remember from our book that Beth suffered an "anoxic stroke" which means that her stroke was caused by a lack of oxygen.)

antidepressant - medication used to treat depression

apathy - lack of interest or concern

aphasia - unable to express oneself or to understand what someone is saying

aphemia - unable to articulate words but able to write fluently and understand

apraxia - unable to carry out a skilled movement

apraxia of speech - difficulty saying words correctly in a consistent manner

art therapy - using art such as painting, crafts or group activities to develop motor skills, perception and self-esteem

ataxia - problem with muscle coordination

atrophy - decrease is size of a cell or body part due to lack of nourishment, inactivity or loss of nerve function

ADL - activities of daily living such as bathing, eating, dressing, personal hygiene and for managing a household situation

AVM - Arteriovenous malformations are masses of abnormal blood vessels which grow in the brain

brain injury - physical damage to the brain caused by physical force, insufficient blood or oxygen supply, toxic substances, malignancy, disease-producing organisms, congenital disorders, birth trauma or degenerative processes. This damage usually includes the inability to "normally" perform one of more functions such as arousal, attention, language, memory, reasoning, abstract thinking, judgment, problem-solving, sensory abilities, perceptual abilities, motor abilities, psychosocial behavior, information processing and speech.

brain plasticity - the inability of healthy brain cells to take over the functions of damaged brain cells

case management - coordination of patient access to medical, rehabilitation and support programs

chronic care - long term care program that emphasizes providing a reasonable quality of life with limited expectations for improvement of the patient's abilities

cognition - ability to know or be aware of thoughts or perceptions, including the ability to reason and understand

cognitive impairment - difficulty performing basic brain functions such as perception, memory, attention, and reasoning skills

cognitive rehabilitation - therapy programs designed to help a person improve cognitive impairments

community skills - life skills that enable an individual to perform independently such as using a telephone, using public transportation, meal planning and cooking, cleaning house, walking to a specific location, etc. (Note: our book, Brain Injury Survivor's Guide, and this website are dedicated to helping people improve community skills.)

comprehension - ability to understand spoken or written communication and gestures

concentration - ability to be attentive over a period of time without being easily distracted

concussion - a temporary or prolonged state of altered mental functions usually resulting from a blow of some kind. Football players speak of "getting their bell rung." A concussion may or may not result in unconsciousness. Soldiers may be knocked down by a nearby explosion but not physically injured; they "shake the cobwebs away". Concussions can cause brain injury symptoms that may not appear for weeks or months.

confabulation - producing false memories that may never have occured or those in which dates, times, people and events may not be accurate. These memories are truly believed by the person.

contusion - as it applies to the brain, a contusion is a bruise usually caused by a blow to the head

core therapies - usually include medical care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, neuropsychology, social work and therapeutic recreation

contracoup damage - damage to the opposite side of the brain where a blow was struck

coup damage - damage to the side of the brain where it was struck

dance or movement therapy - moving to the sound of music can integrate and improve physical, cognitive and psychosocial function

diffuse brain injury - brain cell damage occurs in many areas of the brain rather than one specific location

disinhibition - unable to control or suppress impulsive emotions and behavior

dysarthria - speech problem evidenced by slow, slurred speech that may be difficult or impossible to understand

dysphagia - medical condition evidence by difficulty swallowing

echolalia - imitating sounds or words without understanding what those sounds or words mean

emotional lability - rapid and drastic emotional changes such as laughing, crying or anger for no apparent reason

error recognition - person is aware that a given response is wrong but does not know the correct response. For example, on a simple math problem of 2 x 2, the person writes down 5 and says, "I know this is wrong."

evaluation program - comprehensive assessment of a person's problems and abilities and a report of steps that should be taken for rehabilitative therapy (Note: Beth's initial evaluation at Timber Ridge Ranch lasted 30 days.)

executive functions - ability to plan, prioritize, initiate, inhibit, monitor, correct, control and change one's own behavior. Inability to perform executive functions is common among brain injury victims.

frustration tolerance - ability to complete a task even though difficulties are encountered. Angry behavior or refusing to continue a process after running into difficulty is indicative of poor frustration tolerance.

head injury - previously referred to all brain and head injuries but is not used much any longer when referring to brain injuries

hemiparesis - partial paralysis or muscle weakness on one side of the body

hypoxia - insufficient levels of oxygen reaching body tissues

job development specialist - person who assesses capabilities of patient and attempts to place the patient in an appropriate work setting

latency of response - amount of time taken to respond to stimulus. For example, a question is asked, "What did you have for dinner last night?" A non-injured brain could formulate a response quickly. A person with an injured brain will be much slower providing an answer, and that answer might be, "I can't remember."

leisure skills - ability to make decisions about how to use leisure time effectively

memory - rather than attempt to provide any kind of comprehensive definition here, we recommend you read the many, many articles relating to memory skills

metacognition - also known as Insight Regarding Impairment, this refers to a brain injured person's recognizing abilities and limitations after the injury. In many, if not most, cases, true metacognition is rare. Brain injury victims, for the most part, do not recognize or do not accept that their lives have changed. This usually lengthens the amount of time required for therapies to show improvement.

motivation - ability to follow through a task to completion. After brain injury, a person lacks motivation and needs cues, lists and strategies to accomplish nearly everything. Claudia Osborn tells of returning to her apartment and looking in a mirror. She had not dried her hair after taking a shower. She was wearing one earring and no makeup. A primary purpose of the Brain Injury Planner Pages you will find on this website is to compensate for lack of motivation.

music therapy - using music and singing to improve language and movement skills

neuroplasticity - See article on Brain Fitness

neuropsychologist - A psychologist who specializes in evaluating brain/behavior relationships, planning training programs to help the survivor of brain injury return to normal functioning and recommending alternative cognitive and behavioral strategies to minimize the effects of brain injury. Dr. Glen Johnson, who you will read about on many pages of this website, is a neuropsychologist.

occupational therapy( OT) - any therapeutic activity engaged in for evaluating, specifying and treating problems interfering with functional performance. Most cases may require modifications to living quarters and developing strategies that compensate for memory, cognitive and behavioral problems.

parapnasias - using incorrect words or word combinations. An example might be saying the word "chair" when referring to a bed.

personal adjustment training - training to help modify behaviors to enable a person to adequately deal with their environment or to practice "socially acceptable" behaviors

physiatrist - A physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Some specialize in neurologic rehabilitation. A physiatrist follows the patient closely throughout treatment and oversees the patient's rehabilitation program

physical therapy (PT) - therapy designed to improve muscle strength, muscle tone, posture, coordination, endurance, and general mobility, including cardiovascular exercises which are essential to improved oxygen distribution and blood flow to the brain

post traumatic amnesia - hours, weeks, days or months following an injury when the patient exhibits a loss of day-to-day memory, an inability to store new information, and has a decreased ability to learn.

prevocational evaluation - an assessment of a patient's potential to be employed, including attitude toward work, ability to assume personal responsibility and work habits.

psychologist - medical professional who identify personality and cognitive functioning of a patient and provide counseling to both the patient and family members in order to improve the patient's cognitive abilities, behaviors and coping skills

psychosocial skills - this refers to the ability of a brain injury victim to adjust to the injury and any disabilities it caused. It also includes how victims feels about themselves, their sexuality and behaviors and how victims relate to other people.

rehabilitation - comprehensive program designed to help an injured person achieve mental and physical improvements

respite care - taking temporary care of an injured person for a few hours or days to allow the primary care giver to have much needed time for rest and relaxation (Note: A primary caregiver must have time away from the burdens of providing constant care. Essential)

selective attention - ability to focus on the most important aspect of a situation without becoming distracted

sexuality counseling - techniques and special methods to help brain injury victims and family members deal with intimacy issues

social adjustment training - training usually provided in a group setting to help individuals improve their abilities to interact with individuals in a group or community setting

social worker - a wonderful, wonderful person who serves as a liaison between the professional team and other parties concerned with the patient, including: the family, funding sources, friends, employers, co-workers and helps families find alternative therapies. (Beth's social worker provided training to Beth's co-workers after she was able to return to work.)

support group - usually a group of family members who also have loved ones living with brain injury. This type of group can be a great source or inspiration, courage and assistance.

traumatic brain injury - brain injury that results due to an impact with an outside force

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