Changes After Brain Injury-Part 1 by Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Inside the Brain: Changes in Behaviors and Emotions After Brain Injury

The author and caregiver, Donna O'Donnell Figurski.

Donna O’Donnell Figurski.

by Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Every brain injury is different. When injury occurs to any part of the brain, there is going to be a change. The part of the brain damaged determines the kind of symptoms experienced. Because the brain is a complex organ, some damage may cause unexpected behaviors or emotional changes.

There are several sections of the brain. Each is responsible for various aspects of daily life. This article shares some of the behavioral and emotional changes that can result from damage to the cerebellum and to the cerebrum: temporal lobe, occipital lobe, parietal lobe, and frontal lobe, a major part of which is the prefrontal cortex.

An Overview of the Brain

The cerebellum, which is at the base of the skull, controls coordination, balance, equilibrium, and motor-skill memory. Some of the problems that result from damage to this area are: compromised balance (unable to walk), problems with fine-motor skills, and slurring of speech.

The cerebrum is the uppermost region of the central nervous system and is made up of the temporal, occipital, parietal, and frontal lobes. It is also divided into approximately symmetric left and right cerebral hemispheres.  With the assistance of the cerebellum, the cerebrum controls all voluntary actions in the body.

A Closer Look

A Closer Look

A Closer Look at Brain Injury to the Cerebrum

Damage to the temporal lobe can cause problems with hearing, memory, and motor-skill memory. Injury in the temporal lobe may also result in aggressive behavior.

The occipital lobe has to do with vision and vision-related activities. Reading and writing will be affected by damage to this area of the brain. Vision impairment can occur, which includes blurry, tilted, and double vision.

The parietal lobe is responsible for touch perception and the interpretation of visual information. Problems that may occur with damage to this lobe include difficulty in naming objects, difficulty with reading and/or writing, and spatial perception problems that can affect coordination.

Emotional responses and expressive language are housed in the frontal lobe. Emotions and the skills for problem-solving are dealt with there. The frontal lobe helps folks make sense of the world around them. It’s needed to understand others and be empathetic to them. Essentially, the frontal lobe is the emotional and social control area. It also determines and steers personality.

The prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobe controls analytical thinking, thought analysis, and behavior regulation. Executive functions are controlled here too. The prefrontal cortex is the gateway for making good decisions. When this area is injured, the thinking process is affected in such a way that inappropriate behavior is often the result.

The brain is a complicated organ in the body that determines who one is – how one thinks, how one plans, how one feels, and how one acts. A complete understanding of the workings of this now mysterious organ is happening, but that understanding is still in the future. Several functional parts of the brain have been identified. The symptoms that are experienced usually reflect the specific part of the brain that has been injured. But, scientists still have a long way to go to completely understand the brain. As with any venture on the brink of discovery, we must be patient, while eagerly looking forward to discovering the mysteries of our brains.


Cerebellum —

Frontal Lobe —

Temporal Lobe —

Occipital Lobe —

Parietal Lobe —

What Are the Functions of the Prefrontal Cortex? 

Meet Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Donna is a wife, mother, and Granny. She is a teacher, playwright, actor, director, writer, picture-book reviewer, photographer … and, on January 13, 2005, became the caregiver for her husband and best friend, David. Donna had never heard of “TBI” before David’s cerebellar hemorrhage. Now TBI invades her life. Donna spends each day writing a blog, called “Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury,” preparing her radio show, “Another Fork in the Road,” on the Brain Injury Radio Network, and searching for a publisher for her completed memoir, “Prisoners Without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale.”

Donna has published four stories with Scholastic, won Essex County’s 2013 Legacies Writing Contest, and was recognized for her children’s book review column, “Teacher’s Pets,” by the National Education Association. Donna published articles about brain injury in several online magazines; she has three biographies and two chapters in press (due out in 2017). But, Donna’s greatest accomplishment is caregiver to her husband, David.

Link to Donna’s blog:  Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury (

13 responses to “Changes After Brain Injury-Part 1 by Donna O’Donnell Figurski”

  1. Hi Barbara,

    How sweet of you to comment. Sorry it took me so long to find your comment and respond to it. Since my book, “Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale,” was published in November 2018, I have been crazy-busy. A good crazy-busy! I am so glad that we met in the social media rooms for survivors and caregivers of brain injury. I have met so many amazing people there. You are one!

    All best, Donna

    Barbara’s Comment
    My name is Barbara Wilson, I have followed Donna for years Donna knows me as (Asby). She is a blessing in the brain injury world. How she does what she does amazes us all. She tries to contact you back when you need her, God has truly given us brain injury survivors an angel. Please follow her links and blog radio shows, they are very beneficial. Bless you all.

    donna o’donnell figurski
    Author of “Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale”

  2. Barbara Wilson says:

    My name is Barbara Wilson, I have followed Donna for years Donna knows me as (Asby). She is a blessing in the brain injury world. How she does what she does amazes us all. She tries to contact you back when you need her, God has truly given us brain injury survivors an angel. Please follow her links and blog radio shows, they are very beneficial. Bless you all.

  3. Merilee Terry says:


    I enjoy reading your comments and those from other professionals on this website. Furthermore, the stories from other readers have been very helpful.

    My now 27-year old son had a fatty embolism attack to his brain after breaking both femurs and tibia in a head on car collision almost 6 year ago. He didn’t initially have brain injury until about a week after the accident, when the fatty embolism occurred. It was described as several mini strokes throughout his brain.

    When he was given the grim prognosis of 0% chance of ever being more than in a persistent vegetative state by a hospital neurologist, our trauma doctors said they had seen indications that this might not be the case. They were right and we now have a new version of our wheelchair bound son at home with us. (After the accident I was able to retire and my husband did three years later.)

    My question is what can we better do to keep him occupied with things other than movies and car rides when he has lost the ability to speak (although he understands everything that is said to him and around him) and cannot effectively use his hands or legs (yet does not have paralyzation by most people’s definitions)?

    We’ve turned part of our home into a therapy area where he works with our assistants twice daily under the training and direction of our at-home physical therapist, who comes 1-2 times per week, as well as works with our speech therapist 2-3 times per week. He is still making progress, but it is painfully slow. (Our insurance stopped paying any portion of the cost of this home rehab after he wasn’t making progress fast enough.)

    I would love to find more resources available to us as it seems they are more limited in his age range (we can find things for those under age 21 or for those who are elderly). Caregiving is indeed the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced, but are not willing to turn him over to another institutionalized living situation.

    I would appreciate any and all suggestions.

    CT’s Mom

  4. Hi David,

    Thank you for your well-thought comment. You said, “… but can’t we help them … those who suffer unaware?” After seeing what brain injury has done to my husband and so many of my new-found friends, I wish I could help all of them.

    Truly, I do think we all help in whatever ways we can. I write articles to raise awareness of brain injury. Lash & Associates Publishing and other journals publish them for readers like you. You make comments and make us rethink .It seems we all do our bits to help raise awareness. Thank you so much for responding. I wish I had a better answer for you.

    Please visit my blog to read many more articles and interviews with survivors of brain injury and their caregivers.

    Donna O’Donnell Figurski

  5. David says:

    Donna, thanks for these recent articles. People who have electroshock therapy get unilateral or bilateral electricity at the temporal lobes and near the frontal lobe. They are told it is therapy yet it is merely torture. They go home mostly uncured and suffer or repeat the ECT and suffer more (nested traumas). They seem to have TBI but were not told that by anyone. I can’t change medical malpractice, but can’t we help them … those who suffer unaware?

  6. Hi Nancy Ziegler,

    Thank you so much for reading my article, “Changes After Brain Injury-Part 1.” I was horrified to hear how you got your brain injury. I, too, am a teacher (retired in 2011) and find is so disturbing that teachers are put at such risk in the classroom.

    I’m sorry about the challenges you face and the difficulties of your family in understanding what you are dealing with. Unfortunately, many brain injury survivors face this problem. You are not alone. I know that does not solve your problem.

    You might want to refer your family to my blog, “Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury” ( I interview and publish many stories about survivors of all kinds who are living with brain injury. Many of them talk about the same issues that you do. Maybe, if your family members see that what you are dealing with is not uncommon among brain injury survivors, they may be able to be more empathetic to how your brain injury is affecting you.

    In particular, look for the categories, Survivors SPEAK OUT! (


    “Faces of Brain Injury.” (


    “Brain Injury Resources.”

    I can also recommend two books for which I have written chapters that are filled with stories about survivors and caregivers.These can be found on Amazon.

    Surviving Brain Injury: Stories of Strength and Inspiration by Amy Zellmer (

    The Resilient Soul by Karen Leavitt (

    Nancy, I have also posted this information as a comment under my article, “Changes After Brain Injury-Part 1” on the Lash and Associates Publishing website.

    I am on many of the brain injury sites on Facebook. You can always find me there. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I truly hope that some of the resources above will be helpful to you.

    Donna O’Donnell Figurski

  7. Nancy Ziegler says:

    Thank God I found your site.
    My brain injury is 5-1/2 years old now. I was a special education teacher and was struck in the Occipital region of my head with a hardbound textbook.
    I repeatedly have issues with fatigue, and especially lack of empathy for anyone.
    This has put a huge wedge in step-children’s ability to understand or care.
    They blame me for all the problems.
    I have had cognitive brain training 3 years ago.
    I have had balance training 5 years ago.
    Bright lights, noise and motion set me off into a tailspin, but not all the time.
    Many times, the symptoms come 12 hours later or so, then last for days.

    Do you have any suggestions for me to give some type of literature to my adult step daughter to help her at least get a handle on my inability to have good relations? The division in the family is getting worse.

  8. Dear Marilyn,

    Thanks so much for popping in here to offer advice to Anna Castro.

    The Brain Injury Association of America always offers great information. (

    Most sincerely,

    Donna O’Donnell Figurski

  9. Hi Anna,

    Thank you for sharing your story about your son with me. I am so sorry that happened to him and to you. First, his injury is still very new. The brain does heal itself, though it takes a good, long time. So please, keep hope.

    I guess what most concerns me is that he is not being seen for rehabilitation on a regular basis, especially to help control his anger issues. Marilyn Lash Cluett had some very good advice in the comment before this one. I agree with her. Try to contact the The Brain Injury Association of California.
    ( They should be able to offer help.

    This may be obvious, but you didn’t mention it and I want to cover as much as I can. Have you sat down with your son (in a calm time) to explain that you, too, have limitations, but you are trying your best to help him. If he understands that you are on his side, and it sounds to me that you are, perhaps he can be more understanding and less demanding – hopefully reducing his anger and frustration.

    I can truly understand your concern about your son mixing his prescriptions with alcohol. As you said, that can be a very bad combination and should be discouraged as much as possible.

    I know you said that you do not want to tell his physician about his bouts of anger and that you fear your son’s anger towards you, but, frankly that is what would be best for both of you – and especially for him. Physicians can often adjust medications to help their patients’ emotional behavior. With some prescriptive tweaking, your son may find an even keel. It’s worth a try.

    And, if in fact, if the physician feels that your son would benefit from some additional hospital care, then that would be better than having something dire happen that can’t be reversed.

    Also, try to find his case manager. Sounds like you could use a little someone to lean on and offer specific advice for you and your son.

    Anna, I am not a medical practioner and I only offer this as information that I have learned over the years since my husband had his traumatic brain injury in 2005.

    For more information about anger management, you can listen to my radio show, On The Air: Brain Injury Radio “Another Fork in the Road” Panel: Behavioral & Emotional Problems After Brain Injury

    Click this link.


    Also, please click into my blog to see how other survivors and caregivers live with their brain injuries.

    Click this link.

    I really hope that you can get the help that both you and your son need.

    Most sincerely,
    Donna O’Donnell Figurski

  10. Marilyn Lash Cluett says:

    The Brain Injury Association of California is a great resource with information and support for individuals as well as families and caregivers. If you go to this webpage you may find a support group in your area.

  11. Anna Castro says:

    This came at a perfect time… My son is 24 now.. didn’t think he would make his bday but he surprised all of us. Last year 2016 in April he had a severe TBI/Stroke he had a golf ball sized tumor lodged on his left side which pushed that part of his brain most of the way to the right. His midline was way past his nose.. he was in a coma for two weeks. Hospital he stayed in for about one month, then went off to rehab where he amazingly walked out 28 days later. Present time he still reverts to being a 6 year which will last for a few hours without him being aware of it.. he still has no use of his left arm. In july was when he had the bone flap surgery and hasn’t been back to the brain surgeon since Sept. Its his temper that concerns me the most. I try my best to be patient with and keep telling myself “he is a TBI patient.” I walk away alot. But he has verbalize that I make him mad because I am not detailed enough when speaking to him. I forgot to mention I am both mother and caregiver to him with no help. When he doesn’t remember was in 2014 I had a major heart attack and because the time that it took to get me to the local ER, I had minor brain damage.. which I forget things.. or words.. so I use the word “thingie” alot.. or “that thing.” Because I honestly cannot think of the word.. well this has gotten to his final nerve.. so he decided drinking will solve this problem. Now we all know that is suicide considering the meds he is on. I am at my wits end.. with no help or guidance. We go to a local office where we are given psych med and a brief therapy (up to 15 mins) he is suppose to have a case worker. but haven’t seen her in months.. she went MIA.. How long does this temper last.. will it ease up? I have said it a dozen times if not more that I lost my son in ICU and this stranger is walking around in my son’s body.. it is hard for me as I know it must be triple harder for him. He is fighting now between the old him and the new him.. He wants to bring part of his old into his new.. and it is a MESS. PLEASE HELP! I DO NOT want to tell the doctors.. that he has threaten me.. because then they will take him and put him into a home.. for the mentally ill… he is a TBI patient.. and just needs love and care.. but I am not doing something right.. and his temper is brewing… Any suggestions?? Thanks

  12. Dear Shelley Turner,

    I want to thank you for reading my article and for commenting. I’m so sorry to hear about your brain injury. It truly astounds me how many folks are living with brain injury. For many, memory loss plays a big part in their “new” lives.

    You said you needed help. Here are a few tips that some survivors find works for them. Worth a try.

    BE CONSISTENT – Do things in the same order. Have a Routine.

    INCREASE CONCENTRATION and ATTENTIVENESS – Jigsaw puzzles and logic games are helpful. My husband uses Lumosity. (

    FOCUS — on one activity at a time.

    MEDITATION — Here is a link with several guided meditations.

    DISTRACTION — Remove yourself from areas of turmoil.

    WRITE IT DOWN — Keep a journal or a calendar and check it often. Post-Its work wonders. Use a white board in a central location to remind yourself of upcoming events. Keep a note pad handy and write down things you don’t want to forget.

    I hosted a panel on my radio show, “Another Fork in the Road,” called “Cognitive & Memory Deficits After Brain Injury.” A caregiver, a brain injury survivor, and I talked about how to cope with memory loss. Here is the link to my show.–cognitive-memory-deficits

    Here’s another good show with lots of tips. It’s called, “Another Fork in the Road: Panel – Daily Living, Organization, & Brain Injury”–daily-living-organization-brain-injury

    Shelley, I hope that you will find some of these ideas helpful. Good luck with your healing and never give up!

    Donna O’Donnell Figurski

  13. Shelley turner says:

    I am a woman 55 years old that had a brain tumor in my cerebellum. First one 2004 telling me it was benign and wouldn’t return. well it did. I had a second surgery four months ago. I am functioning pretty well, I trip fall some. My big problem is memory, short and long term. example cleaning house, movies, everyday things to remember. apt times
    on and on it goes. my husband tries hard,but he says my reaction time is 0 so I fly off the handle. I was a slow leaner anyway, but now it is awful. I live in Ca in san bernadino county. I need help and so does my family

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