Types of Professionals Providing Help For TBI
Emergency Room Physicians and Primary Care Physicians (pediatricians, family doctors) may help after the initial period after injury. If problems and symptoms that appear after injury do not go away, these doctors may be good sources for getting referrals to TBI specialists.
Neurologist - This specialist physician may be the first to be seen after initial care. Neurologists are medical doctors; their primary role is to diagnose conditions of the brain and central nervous system and treat symptoms that can be improved through prescription medications. Neurologists diagnose TBI by asking about the accident or other event that caused injury and the symptoms or problems that resulted. He or she may then send the person for procedures, like a CT scan, that will take images of the brain to see if damage has occurred. (Often TBI, especially so-called "mild" TBI, cannot be detected using imaging tools currently available. If that is the case, a diagnosis of "probable TBI" can often be made through testing by a neuropsychologist.)
Physiatrist - This physician specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. Physiatrists should be a key part of the injured person's treatment, because they identify specific needs, prescribe medications and treatments and coordinate referrals to particular specialists who will be useful to the person with TBI. Also, they provide the kind of long-term medical care that is useful because the brain injury often affects other health conditions and may affect how people respond to medications. Most family physicians are not trained to understand the specific needs of people with TBI.
Neuropsychologist - This is a licensed professional (Ph.D.) who is trained in observing and treating the psychological, behavioral and cognitive impact of a TBI. The neuropsychologist combines knowledge of the brain and its functions with knowledge of how an injury to the brain affects the mind and behavior. Neuropsychologists often use paper-and-pencil tests to assess the ways in which a brain injury has affected the brain's functions and the ways in which functioning is still normal. For example, these tests can show that a person has a problem with certain kinds of memory but has no problem with attention. This kind of testing helps develop a map that will guide the kinds of treatment that should be provided, by the neuropsychologist or by other professionals. The neuropsychologist may also provide cognitive rehabilitation and/or emotional supportive therapy.
Neuropsychiatrist - This is a medical doctor who specializes in treatment of brain functioning, and may be involved in treating a person with a TBI if medication is required to stabilize brain chemistry, which can become unbalanced as a result of a traumatic brain injury.
Occupational therapists (OT), physical therapists (PT) and speech-language pathologists (SLP) are all licensed professionals. An OT provides help in re-learning skills of daily life if those skills have been affected by the brain injury, such as dressing, bathing, cooking, shopping, etc. The OT will also encourage re-engagement with school or work, as well as participation in home, social and community activities. The PT provides help when a person with TBI has problems with physical functioning, such as difficulties in walking. The SLP addresses problems with speech, language and swallowing, if these symptoms appear after brain injury.