Ask Kathy M. Archives
A Collection of Questions and Answers from TBI Advice Expert - Kathy Moeller

Topic: Sensory Problems - Problems with Lighting

Question:

Dear Kathy M.,

I've recently learned that light may be having an effect on me I didn't realize. I have known for a long time that I get agitated in certain situations (some grocery stores, some offices, school classrooms), but until recently it never occurred to me that it could be the lighting (a friend I met recently on the Internet, who also has a brain injury told me about how light affects her).

What can I do other than stay home and pull the curtains?

Martin


Kathy's Response:

Dear Martin,

Discomfort and agitation under certain kinds of light are actually quite common following brain injury -- especially certain kinds of fluorescent lighting. I don't know all the technical reasons for this, but it apparently has something to do with the way fluorescent light vibrates.

I have a problem with light personally (bright sunlight as well as most fluorescent lighting). To be on the safe side, I make every effort to avoid fluorescent lighting of all kinds (I turn off all the fluorescence and use incandescent floor lamps in my office and classroom). Also, I now have prescription glasses that are both tinted brown and have photo-gray lenses ("photo-gray" lenses are a particularly kind of lens that adjusts in strong light and become darker in strong light).

In situations where I cannot avoid fluorescent lighting and it's particularly troublesome, I will wear dark glasses or visors, too (since fluorescent light comes from above, visors block some of it out). I have also been known to carry an incandescent lamp or two in my car to use in situations where the people I'm meeting with are willing to turn off the overheads and use incandescent lamps (we did this routinely at a support group a few years back).

In rehab, I learned that all our senses can get easily overloaded following a brain injury. We are often susceptible to all kinds of sensory overload (visual, auditory, olfactory and tactile). A wide range of visual problems can arise. They include problems with visual scanning (can't find stuff that may be right in front of you), visual overload (feeling of being attacked by all the little jars on a grocery store shelf), oversensitivity to light, and a variety of other things.

There are some excellent resources on the Internet. One of them is the Handle Institute (when you go to their site you will learn about "sensory integration" and the "vestibular system"). Their website is at http://www.handle.org. An article that may be helpful on the issue of visual disorders following brain injury can be found at: http://www.handle.org/disorders/issues.html#VSDoes

I have not had specific therapy for my symptoms (though I'd probably benefit from it). My personal strategies have revolved around controlling my environment. I share the work the Handle Institute is doing because I've heard reports from a number of people with brain injury that their treatments and suggestions are effective for them. I've heard Judith Bluestone speak (she is the founder of the Handle Institute) and she is right on target with many, many things!

Hope this helps.

Kathy M.

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