Brain injuries can change lives forever. However, with good rehabilitation, family support and proper funding, the future can still be bright for those living with brain injury.
These resources are designed to help brain injury survivors and their families understand what life may be like when living with brain injury.
Living With Brain Injury: The After effects
Every individual’s recovery after a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a unique process. It is important for family members to be aware of the possible effects of TBI so they can ease some of the distress and confusion their loved one may be experiencing.
Common aftereffects to watch for include:
- Confusion or general “fogginess”
- Loss of focus
- Light & noise sensitivity
- Difficulty speaking
- Personality changes
- Swallowing problems
- Speech and language problems
- Dizziness & vestibular problems
- Memory problems
- Impulsive behaviour / lack of inhibition
- Problems with decision making and planning
- Difficulty learning new concepts
- Sense of loss/feeling depressed
- Sensory/perceptional deficits
- Changes in motor function
Coping With The Injury
One common response is to deny the significance of the injury; unfortunately, a brain injury can’t simply be “walked off.”
Soon after a traumatic brain injury (TBI), survivors may focus on the abilities they have lost. This experience can be overwhelming, confusing, and frustrating. But as time goes on, everyone deals with their injury in different – productive and non-productive – ways.
Brain injury recovery can be slow, which only compounds the frustrating aspects of TBI. Brain injuries can also result in psychological challenges and may affect mental health. Depression, anger and anxiety are common after a brain injury. People with TBI should seek qualified care and support if they experience mental health problems.
As people begin to regain lost abilities or acquire new coping skills, they also may begin to accept the realities of their injury. At this stage, a person may feel like they are no longer fighting the injury but seeking ways to integrate the TBI into their lives.
For most people, life will eventually return to a similar pace after they experience a brain injury. But for others, a TBI may mean months, years, or even a lifetime of changes.
When dealing with a traumatic brain injury it feels as if there is no clear road map for medical care, rehabilitation and recovery.
People living with brain injuries may need additional hospital check-ups, extra doctor visits, or long-term rehabilitation. Even people who feel like they are “back to normal” may need to visit a neuropsychologist for testing or incorporate cognitive exercises into their daily routine.
While most people who sustain a minor TBI recover quickly, for those with moderate to severe TBIs life may need to be reinvented, reinterpreted, and accepted as something different.
Living With Brain Injury: Effect on Relationships & Family
Family and friends who become caregivers must seek support and assistance.
When a loved one sustains critical injuries, their family and friends’ lives are also turned upside down. Once the initial shock and fear subsides and families learn their loved one will survive, the true consequences of the injury start to sink in. When faced with the possibility that a loved one may not be exactly as they were before, a floodgate of emotions can be opened.
Impact on Couples
Partner relationships and family roles and responsibilities may face profound changes and interpersonal communication can become a major challenge. Injured survivors and their partners may have to deal with the intense feelings of shock, denial, anger, and depression that can accompany the many losses resulting from TBI. It may lead to role changes, and subsequent identity changes.
Children are often troubled by the sudden helplessness of a parent, and may feel left out or forgotten. The brain injury survivor requires special support: the help of extended family and friends can help fill this need. The non-injured spouse may also have an overwhelming need for support.
TBI survivors may find their sex drive diminished, though in some instances they experience a dramatic increase. Many non-injured spouses can also experience a drastic reduction in libido, which may be linked to fatigue, worry, increased responsibility, or the unfamiliarity of having a ‘stranger’ (the changed injured survivor) in bed. It takes time for couples to adjust, and it is important to seek counseling if difficulties with intimacy and sexuality persist.
The non-injured family member can be overwhelmed with caring for a brain-injured spouse, friend or partner who may have become almost child-like. The demands of ongoing care and the loss of companionship, material and emotional support, can result in an emotional overload.
Guilt is common among non-injured spouses who may yearn for more personal space, while at the same time feel the need to do everything for the survivor. They often report being torn between protecting the survivor and pushing them toward greater independence.
Feelings of Loss
Personality changes in a traumatic brain injury survivor may evoke the feeling of having “lost a loved one.” Everyone who is affected by brain injury suffers loss, including the injured survivor and the non-injured family members.
Injured survivors suffer losses that are beyond physical and cognitive. They often resent the loss of authority and responsibility they once held within the family and may feel bewildered or even cheated out of their pre-injury life. These feelings may make it hard for them to trust others or plan for future. For some, this readjustment is a lonely process. Non-injured survivors can also suffer similar feelings of loss when roles and relationships with the injured survivor change.
Everyone must adjust to a new “normal” that includes changes in lifestyle and responsibility, potential loss of mobility and flexibility, and a loss of connection to friends and activities in the “outside” world. Psychological support can be of great assistance.
Feelings of Grief
When the shock of the injury subsides, grieving begins and may last for a long time. People may feel outrage or denial, or a profound sense of injustice. Some people become depressed when they realize things will never be the same again. Symptoms of clinical depression include: low energy, apathy, disrupted sleeping habits, changes in appetite, decreased sexual interest, sadness, excessive self-criticism, and thoughts of suicide.
Everyone reacts differently to traumatic brain injury. Some may shy away from the deep feelings surrounding brain injury, while others withdraw from family, become workaholics, or turn to substances such as drugs or alcohol to “dull the pain”. Professional support can be of great assistance to deal with the changes brought on by TBI.
Living With Brain Injury: How to Cope Well
No matter how they cope, all survivors describe a long process of adjustment.
Experts recommend that you pay attention to how you feel and how your approach helps you (and those around you) to get through each day. Name your coping device and use it in times of need. Recognize what you do to cope: some need to share their experience with others; some find release in a good cry and others take comfort from humor and laughter. Many find that focusing on solutions rather than problems is a great help.
Those who are best able to adjust to living with brain injury seem to be those who can find and focus on the positive aspects of life. It is easy to dwell on what has been lost and changed; however, celebrating achievements can bring joy and happiness to life.
More advice on living with brain injury can be found at brainline.org. For legal advice, speak to a Vancouver brain injury attorney by calling 604 713 8030 or 1 877 873 0699 (toll free).