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Brain Injury Terms Frequently Used

When talking with professionals in brain injury rehabilitation facilities, with neurologists, neurosurgeons and neuropsychologists, the following terms are frequently used in discussing the various aspects of brain injury and brain damage as well as the treatment plan for a person with a traumatic brain injury.

Often family members are at a loss to understand all that is being said to them by professionals.  The best thing to do is be up front and ask a member of the health care team to explain the terms that you do not understand.

Activities of Daily Living (ADL): Routine activities of personal hygiene and health (including bathing, dressing, feeding). Also called Self-Help Skills.

Amnesia: Not being able to remember; forgetful.

Anosmia: Loss of the sense of smell.

Anoxia: A lack of oxygen to the brain causing brain damage. Occurs when blood flow is reduced as in suffocation, near drowning, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and injuries. Brain cells need oxygen to exist. When blood flow to the brain is reduced or when oxygen in the blood is low, brain cells are damaged.

Anticoagulants: Medications, such as heparin, utilized to slow down normal blood clotting and prevent blood clots from forming or from spreading.

Anticonvulsants: Anti-seizure medications that help prevent the temporary seizures or convulsions which occur during abnormal electrical brain activity. Frequently used to control seizures in individuals suffering from epilepsy.

Antidepressants: Depression and feelings of low self-worth are common after brain injury. These medications help the patient deal with these negative feelings.

Aphasia: Unable to speak or understand words.

Brain Info

Ataxia: Poor balance and coordination.

Brainstem: The lower portion of the brain, which connects it to the spinal cord. The brainstem controls the body’s most important functions, such as breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and sleeping.

Cerebellum: The area in the back of the brain which helps control balance and fine motor movements (moving fingers).

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF): The liquid which fills the ventricles of the brain and surrounds the brain and spinal cord.  It can be examined by physicians by performing a spinal tap and looking at the composition of the fluid under a microscope.

Cognition: Processes of thinking, understanding, reasoning and memory.

Coma: A state of unresponsiveness where the person cannot be aroused and/or does not respond.  The coma may be for a brief period of time or last several hours to weeks.

Computerized tomography (CT scan): A series of computerized X rays of the brain at various levels to reveal its structure. This procedure shows the more obvious changes such as a brain bleed.

Cortex (cerebrum): The largest part of the brain. It contains two cerebral hemispheres where most thinking and cognitive functioning takes place.

Craniotomy: A surgical opening through the skull.

Decubitus: A bed sore or discolored, open area of skin damaged by pressure. Common areas to this breakdown of skin include buttocks, hips, shoulder areas, ankles, heels, and elbows.  This often results as a result of poor nursing care and is evidence of malpractice.

Diffuse brain injury: Brain damage which covers many areas of the brain; common in closed head injuries due to the brain moving about inside the skull.

Diplopia: Double vision; the perception of two images of a single object.

Disinhibition: Not able to control impulses and emotions. It is a behavioral condition that may develop as a result of a traumatic brain injury

Disorientation: Difficulty recognizing people, a place, day of the week, or the time of day.

Dura: The outermost tissue covering of the brain.

Evacuation of hematoma: A surgical procedure to remove a collection of blood from the brain.

Focal brain injury: Damage that is confined to a specific area of the brain.

Frontal lobe: The area of the brain located at the front of the skull behind the forehead.  This area plays a role in controlling emotions and impulses, motivation, social skills, and expressive language.

Glasgow coma scale: A scale from 3 (no responding) to 15 (fully alert) that indicates how severe the brain injury is. This scale rates someone’s level of consciousness using three factors: motor (muscle) responses, eye opening, and verbal responses.

Epidural hematoma: Bleeding between the skull and the dura (the outermost tissue covering of the brain).

Intracerebral hematoma: Bleeding into the brain itself. This often happens following bruising or tearing of the brain tissue.

Subarachnoid hematoma: Bleeding around the surfaces of the brain between the dura and arachnoid membranes.

Subdural hematoma: Bleeding into the space between the dura and the brain. This creates pressure on the brain.

Hemiparesis: Weakness on one side of the body due to injury to the motor areas of the brain.

Hemorrhage: Bleeding following any type of traumatic injury; bleeding may occur within the brain when blood vessels in the skull or the brain are damaged.

Hydrocephalus: When too much cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) is collected in the ventricles, putting pressure on the brain.

MRI/Magnetic resonance imaging: A diagnostic procedure that uses magnetic fields to create pictures of the brain’s soft tissue. MRI can provide a more detailed picture than the CT scan.

Persistent vegetative state: A condition in which the patient is unable to speak or follow simple commands. The transition from coma to a vegetative condition reflects changes from a period of no response to the internal environment, other than reflexively, to a state of wakefulness but with no indication of awareness.

Rancho Los Amigos Cognitive Scale: An assessment tool used in rehabilitation to describe the behavioral stages of an individual with a brain injury.

Retrograde amnesia: Memory loss of events and periods of time before an injury or accident.

Seizure: An uncontrolled discharge of nerve cells which may spread to other cells throughout the brain. The sudden attack is usually momentary, but may be accompanied by loss of bowel and bladder control, tremors, and/or aggressiveness.

Sensory stimulation: Arousing the brain through any of the senses.

Shearing injury: The tearing of the brain tissue and blood vessels caused by movement of the brain tissue within the skull or against the skull’s sharp, bony edges.

Shunt: A procedure of removing excessive fluid from the ventricles in the brain. A tube is surgically placed in a ventricle that removes excess fluid which is then usually diverted to the abdominal cavity.

Temporal lobe: The lower middle part of each side of the brain used in processing sounds; involved in memory.

Ventilator: Also known as a respirator, a machine that helps a person breathe when they cannot breathe on their own.

Ventricles: Four cavities in the brain which are filled with cerebrospinal fluid. These filled spaces act as cushions when the brain is hit.

Ventilator: Equipment that does the breathing for the unresponsive patient. The machinery serves to deliver air in the appropriate percentage of oxygen and at the appropriate rate.

Ventriculostomy: An opening through the skull into the ventricles; special equipment to monitor pressure inside the skull or to drain cerebral spinal fluid (CSF), special equipment is used to place a small tube into the ventricles through the surgically made opening in the skull.

Ventriculo-peritoneal shunt (VP shunt): A surgical procedure that places a tube connecting a ventricle (cavity in the brain) to the peritoneum (space in the abdomen); peritoneum, to prevent unnecessary pressure to build in the brain, the CSF is absorbed into the body.

Visual field deficit: Not being able to see anything in a specific area of vision.

Visual perception: The ability to understand, explain, and give meaning to what is seen.

The members of the American Academy of Brain Injury Attorneys can assist your family member and yourself in cases of brain injury caused by automobile accidents, bus accidents, train accidents, construction site accidents, medical malpractice, landlord and building negligence.

If you need brain injury legal assistance, call our President, Michael Kaplen toll free at 1 866 BRAIN LAW or by email