Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) affect about 5.3 million Americans. These injuries can range from relatively mild concussions to lifelong disability.
While brain injuries tend to affect everyone differently, there are ways to manage the symptoms. Here's how a weighted blanket might improve the quality of life for someone with a TBI.
What Is a Traumatic Brain Injury?
Traumatic brain injuries can range from mild to severe. For example, a concussion is a type of TBI, and people can suffer them due to falls, car accidents and sports activities.
Each day, around 153 people die due to TBI, and these injuries account for 30 percent of all injury-related deaths in the United States. There are approximately 1.7 million new TBIs each year, and 5.3 million Americans live with some type of disability caused by a TBI.
In some cases, a TBI is closed, which means the damage occurs when the brain is jolted inside the skull. This type of traumatic brain injury includes concussions, which can range from mild to serious and permanently disabling.
By contrast, a penetrating traumatic brain injury involves some kind of piercing or shattering of the skull. This can occur when an object penetrates the head.
People who suffer a TBI can experience a wide range of symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, changes in personality, impaired memory, difficulty sleeping, nausea, trouble concentrating, sensitivity to light or sound, loss of balance and problems with speech. For some people, the symptoms resolve within a relatively short period of time. For others, however, a traumatic brain injury means long-term or even lifelong challenges.
What Causes Traumatic Brain Injuries?
The Mayo Clinic identifies some of the leading causes of traumatic brain injuries, which include:
Falls - Falls are the most common cause of TBIs, with 47 percent of all brain injury-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths caused by falls. Young children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to TBIs caused by falls.
Furthermore, a fall doesn’t have to occur from a significant height to cause serious damage. Even a slip and fall on ice or a loose rug can result in concussion or a more severe TBI.
Car Accidents - Motor vehicle collisions are the third-leading cause of traumatic brain injuries. Although technology has made cars safer, the human body can only sustain so much force in an accident.
No one leaves their home expecting to be involved in a car accident, yet there are more than 3 million collisions every year. Furthermore, up to 60 percent of car accident victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can pose a variety of challenges, including disrupted sleep.
Sports Injuries - Researchers have found that 96 percent of former professional football players suffer from a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head. Additional research has diagnosed the same brain disease in athletes from other sports, including hockey and baseball.
However, it’s not just pros who can suffer serious TBIs. Student-athletes suffer concussions at a rate of between 1.7 and 3 million each year, with football players accounting for 300,000 of these injuries.
Violence - Violence, including gunshot wounds, also accounts for a significant number of TBIs. Self-inflicted violence is the second-leading cause of TBIs in the United States.
- Explosives - Veterans also suffer TBIs at a higher rate than the general population, and many of their TBIs are caused by the concussion blasts that result from detonated devices. According to the Department of Defense, over 17,800 service members suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2017 alone.
However TBIs occur, they can be debilitating for the victim. For many people, just getting a good night’s rest is a challenge after a TBI. This is where a weighted blanket may be able to help.
How Weighted Blankets May Help Ease the Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury
One of the main symptoms of traumatic brain injury is insomnia and difficulty sleeping. According to one study, up to 70 percent of TBI sufferers experience insomnia.
As the study states, “Insomnia, fatigue, and sleepiness are the most frequent post-TBI sleep complaints with narcolepsy (with or without cataplexy), sleep apnea (obstructive and/or central), periodic limb movement disorder, and parasomnias occurring less commonly. In addition, depression, anxiety and pain are common TBI co-morbidities with substantial influence on sleep quality.”
If you or a loved one has suffered a TBI, and you experience insomnia as a result, a weighted blanket may help you get the rest you need.
As we explain in our post about the science behind weighted blankets, autism researcher Dr. Temple Grandin was the first to link firm but gentle pressure and squeezing with decreased anxiety. As a scientist as well as an individual on the autism spectrum, Dr. Grandin had a unique insight into the needs of people with autism. When she observed cows being calmed by pressure devices designed to hold them still for vaccinations, she decided to apply the same technology to human patients.
Dr. Grandin’s experiments were successful, and she developed a squeeze machine to help children and adults with autism feel safe, comforted and calm.
Squeeze machines are still used by occupational therapists today, but they are heavy and quite costly. Fortunately, kids and adults can experience the benefits of firm but gentle pressure by using a weighted blanket.
As with a squeeze machine, weighted blankets deliver a form of therapy called deep pressure touch stimulation. This therapy, which involves firm but gentle pressure and squeezing on the skin, has been shown to reduce anxiety and promote calm in anxiety sufferers, as well as people with PTSD and other health conditions.
Over the years, researchers have found that weighted blankets aren’t just helpful for addressing the symptoms of autism. In fact, there are many benefits of weighted blanket therapy.
According to a study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders, a weighted blanket can help people sleep better and wake feeling more refreshed. The study also found that a weighted blanket helped reduce anxiety in users.
As the study notes, “The application of deep pressure, through for example weighted vests and blankets, has been reported to produce a calming and relaxing effect in clinical conditions such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and pervasive developmental disorders. Applying deep pressure has been shown to be beneficial for children with high levels of anxiety or arousal and deep pressure touch may also alleviate anxiety (e.g. in dental environments and bipolar disorder).”
For people who struggle with insomnia following a TBI, deep pressure touch stimulation therapy may be key to falling asleep more easily and staying asleep longer. Weighted blankets are made to be around 10 percent of the user’s body weight, and they should be sized to fit the person, not their bed. If you have questions about how heavy your weighted blanket should be or what size to order, just contact us for expert help.