“No one is immune to getting that phone call — the one that tells you something bad has happened to your family. Be it a diagnosis of a life-threatening disease or an involvement in a horrific accident, you never expect it to happen to someone you love,” writes caregiver and mother of eight Dixie Coskie.
No matter who experiences it, brain injury ends up affecting the entire family. We use our brains to relate to others and to communicate our needs; and when that connection is disrupted by a TBI, life can suddenly feel chaotic and stressful.
Although the injury happened to Dixie’s 13-year-old son, she notices the rippling effect it has on her relationships with her other children, her husband, her friends … her whole life. In fact, many people notice that their family roles can change significantly after a TBI. A spouse can become a caregiver; a child might experience challenges at school. Oftentimes, families experience a tremendous amount of stress due to the struggles they face after injury, but the good news is that there are a number of resources available that can help families navigate life after a brain injury.
And like many other parents after a family member sustains a TBI, Dixie had to learn how to talk to her other children about what had happened to their brother and how his injury might affect their lives in the long term.
What are some common concerns that families express after a brain injury?
While no family is ever prepared for the life changes a brain injury brings, almost every family following a brain injury wants to know how they can help during the recovery process, and they want to learn about ways they can protect themselves against the financial, psychological and social upheaval that a TBI can cause.
Immediately after a brain injury, it’s common for families to place all their energies and focus onto the person with the injury. As the person begins to move through the rehabilitation process, family members begin to ask questions that extend beyond the person’s physical well-being. They want to know about what kinds of programs and services are available, and they may even seek out a brain injury support group to help gain additional insight about dealing with brain injury.
After some time has passed, families begin asking questions about the long term. They want to learn ways they can minimize the damage caused by the injury, and they want to find ways to improve the quality of life for everyone in the family.
Where can families turn to for support and guidance?
Most major hospitals have case managers or social workers who can suggest local support groups for families dealing with TBI. You should never underestimate just how helpful a support group can be, because they act as information-rich meetings where people can learn about the best resources. They’re also a great forum for people to discuss the emotional side of the injury.
One of the best things a family member can do is to become as educated as possible about the injury. The Brain Injury Association of America offers free information packets to families. There are also a number of family guidebooks available for order or download.
Another major resource available to family members are state and national conferences that focus on brain injury. Many people find themselves inspired and revitalized after attending talks and meeting other people who understand the challenges caused by TBI.
Friendships often fall apart after someone has a TBI, adding a whole other layer of loss on top of the brain injury.