Mar 17, 2021
Brain Injury Awareness and Support to Staff and Students from the GWAEA Brain Injury Resource Team
Members of Grant Wood AEA's BIRT attend the state of Iowa’s Conference on Brain Injury each year in March, National Brain Injury Awareness Month. This conference is supported by the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa, a state division of a national organization that supports the community through advocacy and policy work, education, and free, direct client support through a program called Neuroresource Facilitation. This year’s conference has highlighted two main topics - the effects of COVID-19 on brain function and the use of brain injury screening tools to support vulnerable populations - those experiencing homelessness and incarceration. Victoria Girard, a Grant Wood AEA speech-language pathologist and BIRT lead team member, shares information discussed at the conference about brain function following COVID-19 infection today.
Trends in Brain Injury Following COVID-19 Infection
By: Victoria Klein Girard, M.A., CCC-SLP; BIRT Lead Team Member
Recovering from a COVID-19 infection can take time. Most with a mild illness recover fully within two weeks, while those with more serious illness recover in six weeks. It is estimated, however, that one in four people with COVID-19 infections will continue to demonstrate effects of the infection well beyond the average recovery estimates. Commonly named, “long haulers” are those who experience continued symptoms, which can greatly impact quality of life well past these recovery peroids. These symptoms might be a continued headache, fever, loss of taste or smell, etc; or may extend beyond the common symptom list to include difficulty concentrating, inability to be active or exert oneself, memory problems, sleep disturbances, anxiety, blurry vision, chest pain, confusion, dizziness, joint pain, and more. These symptoms mirror post-concussion syndrome (PCS), but the full list of symptoms extends beyond PCS to include other physical issues, including dysautonomia. (A disfunction of the nerves that regulate nonvoluntary body functions such as heart rate, blood preassure, etc.)
More information is needed to determine the cause and risk of those experiencing “long haulers” issues, though theories are being investigated. Researchers understand that the novel SARS-Cov-2 infection is inflammatory to cells by nature. This inflammation could extend to cells and neurons in brain tissue, causing symptoms of brain injury and exacerbating recovery. Other reasons may be linked directly to significant events with the infection: hypoxia (loss of oxygen) if the lungs and heart are greatly impacted, stroke, heart attack, seizures, critical organ inflammation or loss of blood flow.
At this time, symptoms of those deemed “long haulers” are NOT recognized as an acquired brain injury, limiting rehabilitation services that are accessible to those individuals. More research is needed to determine the cause of extended symptoms and the likelihood of symptom recovery or permanence. If you are experiencing long-term effects of a COVID-19 infection, continue to follow with your physician for support.
This article includes information from the presentation Neurologic, Cognitive, and Social Effects of COVID-19 on TBI Survivors and Caregivers, presented by Alina K. Fong, PHD and Jaycie L. Loewen, PHD, Cognitive FX, Provo, UT, March 3, 2021.
Brain Injury Response Team
Grant Wood AEA's Brain Injury Response Team looks forward to supporting GWAEA staff in their work with students and families affected by COVID-19, persisting brain injury symptoms, or those who may also be dealing with homelessness or incarceration. Referrals for the Brain Injury Response Team are accepted by Jessica Knudson (ext. 6801)
Grant Wood AEA's BIRT staff members include:
Alissa Mullikin, Amy Schilling, Jill Ries, Jack Rainey, Luke Hardginski, Michelle Sunner, Nancy Almasi, Patrick Lussenhop, Victoria Klein-Girard, and Sarah Kruse (GWAEA Link).