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The symptoms of brain damage can be very subtle and easily overlooked by both medical and legal professionals. This may lead to inadequate damages or denial of necessary benefits.
During this “Action for Head Injury Week” run by Headway, the brain injury charity, we are reminded not only that brain injuries can be caused in numerous different ways, but also that the injury can be wide ranging in severity. The injury can be so severe that the patient is incapable of independent living for the rest of their life but also an injury where a person appears to make a good recovery in the short term, but then subtle personality changes and difficulties with executive function reveal themselves and it becomes obvious that the damage is much more pervasive and wide-ranging than was at first recognised.
It is vital that treating medical professionals and also lawyers acting for patients who may have suffered brain injury in an accident or through negligent medical care, are always on the alert for the signs and symptoms of brain injury. Very often the injured person is the last person to recognise that things are not as they were before the injury.
The symptoms of brain damage may include a noticeable personality change, loss of inhibitions, frustration and aggression or an inability to concentrate or make decisions, but these symptoms are not always immediately apparent. This may be because the injury or oxygen deprivation was more serious than first appreciated or there may be a cumulative effect if the person has suffered one or more previous head injuries. Post-traumatic epilepsy may also reveal itself as ‘absences’ that may not be noticed unless friends family or professionals are on the alert and aware of such problems.
If there is litigation it is extremely important not to be rushed into a settlement even where it appears there has been a good early recovery. Difficulties may not become apparent for many months after discharge from hospital in some cases.
Headway, the brain injury association and charity devoted to supporting the head-injured and their families, publish numerous leaflets to help and educate people in relation to the different effects of brain injury.
As part of their Action for Head Injury week, Headway have also launched a positive campaign aimed at GPs to assist them with diagnosing and supporting patients are their carers who are affected by these, often hidden, effects of brain injury. They have created an on-line resource for GPs with a view to increasing understanding and awareness. We fully support this campaign and the hope that it will reduce the number of people who suffer a brain injury which goes unappreciated for too long.
The change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments is also causing concern as the implicit philosophy behind the new work capability assessments is to play down the extent of a person’s disability and if payments are denied soon after an accident it will be very difficult to obtain a competent re-assessment on appeal if the extent of the brain injury is misunderstood by an assessor at the initial application stage.
If a brain injury occurs during medical treatment the circumstances may mean those affected consider suing a Doctor or suing the NHS if they feel there was negligent medical care provided and in such a case they should ensure they consult a specialist medical negligence solicitor with experience of acting for clients who have suffered brain injury and can ensure the full effects of an injury are appreciated before any compensation claim is settled.