An Invisible Disability

A Hamilton-based neuropsychologist believes New Zealand’s prisons may hold many people with undiagnosed head injuries.

A head injury occurs every 15 minutes in New Zealand.

Ron Dick says it’s common for people to think head injuries are mainly caused by motor vehicle accidents but assaults are a major cause.

“You imagine the person on the ground being assaulted and kicked in the head for five minutes. That’s going to cause a lot of problems.”

Many head injuries are also caused in sporting and farming accidents, and accidents around the home.

Ron Dick says some head injuries aren’t diagnosed until a year or two following the injury.

“It’s the invisible disability… Let’s say for instance there’s a motor vehicle accident and there a lot of orthopaedic and internal injuries; the focus will be on the injuries that are immediately noticeable for life saving and sometimes head injuries go un-noticed.“

Symptoms vary according to the part of the brain that has been injured but may include a slow processing speed, disinhibited or aggressive behaviour, a change in personality, the inability to be flexible in thought processes, an inability to remain focused, an aversion to bright lights, crowds and noisy situations, fatigue and the tendency to go off on tangents during a discussion.

Ron Dick says fatigue, the inability to work because of the injury and a feeling of not being able to cope can also lead to anxiety and depression.

He says clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech language therapists who have experience working with people with brain injuries can work with an injured person to mitigate some of the symptoms, to let them know what they can expect and ease their path back to work.

Ron Dick says most people make a complete recovery from a mild traumatic brain injury, particularly when it is their first concussion.