02 Jan Traveling Post-TBI
Travel is stressful to many, even without an health issue. For those who have conditions, such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI), to recover from, an extra layer of complication is added. Given the symptoms that individuals dealing with mild to severe TBI may endure, traveling–whether by plane, train, or automobile–can exacerbate these struggles.
Flying, especially, can be a problem. In fact, some people report that flying in airplanes causes their concussion symptoms to worsen. Cabin pressure, turbulence, crowds, odd lighting; these are only a few aspects of flying that may heighten a person’s anxiety and TBI symptoms. It’s possible that, for some, changes in pressure and the decrease of oxygen concentration could increase the likelihood of headaches, fatigue, and nausea.
Even certain activities we partake in during a flight could have negative impacts on our recovery from TBI. Whether it’s watching movies, reading a book, or playing games on our phones, it’s important to give these a rest, and more importantly, give the brain a rest. Those recovering from a brain injury are already expected to lay off the screens and strenuous mental and physical activity on the ground, let alone up in the air.
Anxiety is believed to increase during the post-injury phase, which makes flying and navigating travel a difficult task. Post-concussion symptoms like the inability to maintain a coherent stream of thought, being easily distracted from a goal, light sensitivity, memory problems, irritability, dizziness, and sensitivity to noise are all ingredients for an overwhelming and overly stimulating experience.
The Restless Roadtrip
Going on a road trip can also be an overly stimulating experience with the constant motion, close quarters, discomfort, and restlessness. In a car, whether you’re driving or not, your eyes are doing a decent amount of work. As other cars go by, and you fly down the interstate, your mind isn’t idle. You may even resort to looking at your phone or reading while on the road. This is a common cause of motion sickness, which usually combines elements of spatial disorientation, nausea, and vomiting.
One of the most important things in post-TBI recovery is getting enough rest. This can be difficult in the car, on a plane, or on a train. Thus, it’s possible to delay healing when the brain is overworking in a confused, irritable, and uncomfortable state.
Fly Like an Eagle, Sleep Like a Baby
When flying or riding after a brain injury, keep in mind some priorities for yourself: rest, relaxation, and hydration–when possible. If you have asked your doctor for advice and you still must travel, cope with the situation using the following tips.
- Drink water. Water intake–or lack thereof–can influence one’s cognitive functioning. In fact, dehydration can disrupt a person’s mood, concentration, alertness, and short-term memory.
- Don’t drink alcoholic beverages. These and other drugs can slow your recovery and put you at risk of further injury.
- Get plenty of sleep. If you can. If that means wearing a sleep mask, dark sunglasses, or noise-cancelling headphones, go for it.
- Ask for help. If you are struggling with reading signage at the airport or on the plane, or having trouble boarding, etc., don’t be afraid to ask for assistance.
- Limit distractions. Meaning, if you’re listening to music (maybe something relaxing, even), avoid also playing a game on your phone or reading a book. Your concentration and recovery may suffer if you do too much at once.
- Take medication. But only the medication prescribed or recommended by your doctor, and be sure you have it (and enough for the whole trip) on your person.
When You Get Where You’re Goin’
Once you arrive at your destination, get to a quiet, non-distracting environment. Avoid multitasking, and start your rest and relaxation as soon as possible.