Changes that normally follow brain injury are hard to comprehend and accept, especially for spouses and parents. Spouses miss having a supportive partner and someone who can share responsibilities. Difficulties are compounded when family members begin to fear that some changes may be permanent.
The effects of brain injury are complicated and hard to understand. Family members are deeply troubled when they first see the injured person at bedside in the hospital. The physical changes are obvious. Fortunately, many physical problems resolve in the first three to six months after injury. However, changes in personality and emotional well-being are more of a long-term challenge to everyone’s well being.
There are a variety of factors that help explain why it is so difficult to live with this “new” person.
People with brain injury need to focus on getting better. The person with the injury needs your help to get better and they are less able to help you.
The Change Recognition Questionnaire. To find out how much you have noticed differences in the person with brain injury, answer the questions below.
Look over your answers to see how the injured person has and has not changed. There may be a number of positive qualities you’ve failed to notice before. You may also find that treating your family member like he was before the injury changes his behavior for the better.
How can you deal with mixed feelings about a survivor who is very different? We’ve talked to many successful couples and families to find out ways they manage after brain injury. Here are a few strategies that have worked for spouses, parents, and others close to a person with brain injury. Look over this list and pick out which ones you think will work for you:
Remember, the most important thing you can do to deal with mixed feelings about living with a “stranger” after brain injury is to be patient. Injury-related changes that occurred were sudden, and you did not have much time to adjust. Getting better after brain injury is a long-term process. Over time your family member will seem more familiar, understandable, and predictable.
For families needing help adjusting to post-injury changes, there is a program which may be helpful. The TBI Model System Family Support program at Virginia Commonwealth University provides counseling for survivors and their family members (spouses, parents, siblings) or friends. People in the program will learn ways to deal with challenges commonly faced by families after brain injury. If you or someone you know may be interested in the family counseling program, feel free to contact us so we may provide you with more information.
From the National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury, Virginia Commonwealth Model Systems of Care. Reprinted with permission. www.neuro.pmr.vcu.edu.
Jeffrey Kreutzer, PhD, Jeffrey S. Kreutzer, PhD, ABPP, is the Rosa Schwarz Cifu Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), Medical College of Virginia Campus. There, he is also a professor of Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. Dr. Kreutzer serves as director of Virginia's federally designated Traumatic Brain Injury Model System and coordinates VCU Health System outpatient services for families and persons with brain injury.
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