Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, causes damage to the brain that can result in speech, language, thinking, and swallowing problems. TBI can happen at any age. Speech-language pathologists, or SLPs, can help. Visit ASHA ProFind to locate a professional in your area.

On this page:

About Traumatic Brain Injury

TBI is a brain injury that can happen from a bump or blow to the head or when an object goes through the skull and into the brain. No matter what type of TBI you have, damage to your brain happens right away. Later, you may develop seizures or brain swelling. Doctors treat these medical problems.

TBI can cause speech, language, thinking, and swallowing problems. These problems can affect you in school, at work, and in everyday activities. SLPs treat these problems.

Signs and Symptoms of TBI

Because your brain controls all that you do, TBI can cause many problems. A lot will depend on how bad the injury is and where it is in your brain. You may experience one or more of the following problems:

  • Physical problems—fainting, seizures, headaches, dizziness and vomiting, problems with balance, and muscle weakness.
  • Sensory problems—sensitivity to lights, sound, and touch; hearing loss or ringing in the ears; changes in vision or double vision.
  • Behavior changes—being more emotional or feeling anxious or angry; feeling depressed or having mood swings.
  • Problems with thinking skills—difficulty paying attention, remembering, and learning new information; difficulty planning, setting goals, and problem solving.
  • Speech and language problems—problems being understood because of weak speech muscles (dysarthria) or problems controlling your speech muscles (apraxia of speech in adults and childhood apraxia of speech); problems understanding what others say or what you read; problems finding the words to say what you want or need.
  • Social communication issues—difficulty following conversational rules, like taking turns and not interrupting; difficulty understanding nonverbal cues, like when someone shrugs their shoulders.
  • Swallowing problems—trouble chewing, or coughing and choking when you eat (swallowing disorders in adults and feeding and swallowing disorders in children).

Causes of TBI

Some common causes of TBI are

  • falls;
  • car accidents;
  • being hit by or running into an object; and
  • violent assaults.

Sport-related and military combat injuries also cause TBI. You may be more likely to have another TBI if you have had one before. Even a mild TBI can lead to more serious problems if you get hit in the head again.

Seeing a Professional

Testing for TBI

A team of professionals, including an SLP, will be involved in your care. They will conduct tests to decide what treatments you will need. An audiologist will conduct tests if you are having hearing or balance problems.

An SLP can test speech, language, and thinking skills. The SLP can also look at how you eat and swallow.

Treatment for TBI

The SLP will work with you starting from the early stages of recovery. Depending on your needs, the SLP may help you 

  • improve speech to make it clearer;
  • express thoughts more effectively;
  • better understand what you read;
  • improve attention during daily tasks and activities;
  • Improve memory using tools like memory books, calendars, and to-do lists;  
  • improve problem-solving, planning, and organization skills;
  • work on social skills, including reading social cues and taking turns in conversation; and
  • learn ways to swallow safely.

Some people cannot speak clearly for a long time after a TBI. Your SLP may suggest that you use other ways to communicate, like picture boards or computers that speak for you. This is called augmentative and alternative communication, or AAC. Treatment will focus on helping you communicate better using these tools.

SLPs also work with other professionals, like rehabilitation counselors, to help you get back to school or work. 

See ASHA information for professionals in the Practice Portal pages on Traumatic Brain Injury in Adults and Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury.

Other Resources

This list does not include every website on this topic. ASHA does not endorse the information on these sites. 

ASHA Corporate Partners