Traumatic Brain Injury: Could You Have One and Not Have Known It?

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Many of the patients Dr. Amen sees at his clinic have a recurrence of dark, often suicidal thoughts, and they often attribute these thoughts to their own messed up way of thinking. But what if these thoughts are the result of a physical problem, or more specifically, a head injury? In the first episode of a series about hidden brain injuries, Dr. Amen and Tana reveal the surprising connection between bad thoughts and traumatic brain injuries.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain spect imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome everybody. We're so thrilled that you've joined us again. This week we're going to talk about one of the most common things we see here at Amen Clinics that completely shocked me as a psychiatrist. We're going to talk about head trauma and all the different ways it manifests itself to cause to mess with your mind.
Tana Amen: Well, and one of the surprising things to me, which we'll talk about, was a shock to me 'cause I'm a neurosurgical ICU nurse, so I dealt with TBIs all the time. So, my idea of what a traumatic brain injury means was very different than what it means to you and what it means to our patients. So, I want to talk about that as we go.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right. I mean, you saw people-
Tana Amen: With their skull flaps. We would take a piece of skull out-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Have a projectile go through there.
Tana Amen: Right, we'd have brain drains, and I mean, that's the stuff I saw. So, I thought that's what TBI meant.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And that kind of TBI is so visible, that it's easy-
Tana Amen: Right. That we know-
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... to see the consequences, where, super sad story this week, Kelly Catlin who was a silver medalist in the 2016 Olympics in cycling killed herself, and a couple of months before had suffered a concussion along with a broken arm. Her family said she was just not the same.
Tana Amen: Never.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And so, people don't think of concussions really as causing lasting brain damage-
Tana Amen: I didn't.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... but let me just tell you a story. I learned this very early from the imaging work I do, and when I would see damage, especially to the left front side of the brain, that people would get dark thoughts, often suicidal thoughts. And I wrote a column in the local newspaper where I lived in Northern California, The Daily Republic, on the connection between head trauma and suicide.
I was at my office late one night and I got a call from a mother who was crying, and I actually stayed to see her that night, and she told me about her son who was 16 years old who had a bicycle accident the year before. Straight A student, good boy, and then after the bicycle accident ... and they said he had a mild traumatic brain injury. His front tire hit the curb and he flipped over onto his head. He was unconscious, but only for a few minutes. And she said after that, everything changed. He was mean, he was irritable, he didn't do well in school, and a couple of months before, he shot and killed himself. And she said, "Do you think that head injury had anything to do with it?" Probably everything to do with it, because when you hurt your brain, you hurt your life.
Tana Amen: Well, and depending on what part, right? So it can really affect what kind of behaviors emerge. That's what I've learned from you.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And Kelly was one of the highest performers, right-
Tana Amen: And she's going to Stanford.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... an Olympic medalist who's going to Stanford, who-
Tana Amen: Right. Her whole life in front of her.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... is a triplet, so connected to her siblings. And I have another friend, actually, who when I filmed the show for CNN, Behind The Mind, I scanned the anchor and she had a beautiful brain and was highly successful. But her sister, and they're twins, was not nearly as successful, because her sister fell from a bunk bed, from the top, and had a significant traumatic brain injury.
And very few people ask, well this person's really successful and this person isn't. Well, it's 'cause they don't care, or they're not motivated. And I just want to tell you it's way more complicated than that.
Tana Amen: But let's talk for a second, because like I said, a lot of people have this idea that it has to be really bad. You have to lose consciousness, you have to be in the hospital. And when you go to the hospital, they'll often say, "Oh, go home, you're gonna be fine," even if you had a concussion. That happened to my mom recently. She had a really bad fall, which now, what, two and a half years later is still affecting her life. She had a brain bleed. And they told her she was fine, and they sent her home. It was crazy.
So, this happens all the time. Let's talk about the difference though. What about for people who never go to the hospital, who never lose consciousness, who never realize-
Dr. Daniel Amen: You mean like Tana Amen?
Tana Amen: Yeah. That they had a brain injury. 'Cause I just, that never crossed my mind. And I think so many people who are hearing this are gonna go, "Wait, I didn't know that qualified."
Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, and one of the biggest lessons I learned early on about traumatic brain injury is people forget that they've had serious ones.
Tana Amen: Because they don't think of it as a traumatic brain injury.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And so I saw a new patient yesterday, and you could see the damage in his frontal lobes and in his temporal lobes, and I'm like, "So when did you have a head injury?" He said, "Oh, I didn't."
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative), see, see?
Dr. Daniel Amen: And sort of like when you and I had first had that discussion, and I went, "Are you sure? Did you ever fall out of a tree, off a fence, dive into a shallow pool?"
Tana Amen: Car accidents.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And he told me from 13 to 19 he was basically abused by his older brother-
Tana Amen: Oh my gosh.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... who would take his head and smash it into the linoleum floor.
Tana Amen: And so you could see the damage on the scan?
Dr. Daniel Amen: I can see the damage on the scan.
Tana Amen: But he's not recalling it because he's not thinking of that necessarily as a brain injury.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Right.
Tana Amen: He's thinking of it as his brother beating him up, and how many kids get beat up?
Dr. Daniel Amen: Correct. So, whether you were beaten by a baseball, whether you were in a car accident, whether you had concussions playing sports. I remember when we did the Logan Paul video. If you haven't seen it-
Tana Amen: It's very funny.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... you can Google it. It's about 14 minutes long, but it's worth watching. He comes-
Tana Amen: Especially if you've got kids. It's helpful.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yeah. And he's so insightful, because-
Tana Amen: And you wouldn't think of that if you've seen his other videos.
Dr. Daniel Amen: No, you wouldn't.
Tana Amen: But he actually was.
Dr. Daniel Amen: But he comes in and he says, "I want to know why I'm an asshole."
Tana Amen: You're not supposed to say that out loud.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I so wish so many of my difficult patients would have that kind of insight. He said, "I want to know why I struggle with empathy and relationships."
Tana Amen: Connection, right.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And he played football for four years, and he was really good. So, even if he had a concussion, the coach would want him to continue playing. And he fractured his skull in seventh grade-
Tana Amen: Dude, that's a big one.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... in a trampoline accident. So, as you stay with us, what were gonna do is we're gonna talk about some of the symptoms. And many people have traumatic brain injuries, but they sort of get better over time, but they can leave a lasting mark on you.
And then we're gonna talk about, well what do you do about it? And so many people go, "Oh, well don't do anything for a couple of months."
Tana Amen: Right, wait until it heals.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Remember in our grief podcast we talk about when do you start healing from grief. It's as soon as you can. When do you start healing from traumatic brain injury? As soon as you can.
Tana Amen: Well, and you look at how critical it is, because this poor girl who had her entire life in front of her killed herself within a couple months.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And if we would have seen her, if we would have scanned-
Tana Amen: You would give her hope.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... her, we could show the problem, and then we would have started to put her brain in a healing environment. But many high achievers, she's a very high achiever ... And she actually, if we did a neuropsych test on her, she may have scored in the normal range, but she wasn't normal for her. So, it may have taken her IQ from 130 to 115, and she may have absolutely hated that because-
Tana Amen: Right. She might have been slower.
Dr. Daniel Amen: ... she knew she wasn't as good as she was. And if you're a perfectionist, that can really drive the darkness in your head.
Now, you have a review. Thank you for listening to our podcast.
Tana Amen: Yes, thank you.
Dr. Daniel Amen: We are grateful.
Tana Amen: Yes, we love the reviews. So, "This video gives so much food for thought, no pun intended. Thanks a lot for your help. We definitely need to reconnect with our body, our brain, and with one another." And he's referring to the video with Perlmutter, which was amazing. We love having him as a guest. And I cannot figure out how to pronounce his name. [Romash 00:09:58]-
Dr. Daniel Amen: Romash [Cannodi 00:10:00].
Tana Amen: Cannodi. Okay, so thank you so much for that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: All right, stay with us. More on traumatic brain injuries shortly.
Tana Amen: If you are enjoying the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast, please don't forget to subscribe so you'll always know when there's a new episode. And while you're at it, feel free to give us a review or five star rating as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: For more information, give us a call at 855-978-1363.