A brain injury can change life forever for the person who sustains the injury and for those in a relationship with that person. Recovery is a lifelong journey with a series of changes, challenges and rewarding experiences.
The more you know about brain injury the more confident you will be in your ability to cope with these changes and to find effective ways to manage the challenges.
What can I Expect?
No one can tell you exactly what to expect. The impact of brain injury and the recovery process are as unique as the individual who has sustained the injury.
- People heal in their own way.
- No two recoveries are alike.
- Some days will be better than others.
Brain injury creates confusion and emotional highs and lows for both the survivor and the family. The most common long-term challenges faced after brain injury have to do with cognition (thinking, memory, and organization) and behavior (habits, emotions, actions).
Brain Injury Differs from Other Injuries
The damage that results from a brain injury is often unseen. On the outside the individual may look the same and seem fine. Some individuals may not be aware they’ve had a brain injury until they or others notice changes in their behavior or thinking. Mild to moderate brain injuries may even be missed in a medical exam.
The injury may cause personality changes. And some personality traits from before the injury may now be exaggerated.
Changes Over Time
Challenges may change over time and even day-to-day. What's easy one day may be hard the next. What works to support a challenge this month may not work next month.
What supports might be needed?
Each brain injury is different. Challenges will range from some to many and from mild to severe.
- Physical adjustments may be needed to help with mobility, vision or speech, sensitivity to light and noise, and fatigue.
- Cognitive aids may be needed to help with memory loss, difficulty in starting and completing tasks, and making it to appointments on time. Support may be needed to improve concentration, organize, plan, and shift attention from one event to the next.
- Behavioral/emotional strategies may be needed to reduce impulsiveness, poor judgment, mood swings and frustration.
- Social cues may be needed to deal with awkward social interaction, inability to understand social boundaries and expectations, and difficulty understanding language such as jokes and double meanings.
There are many support tools and strategies available to help with any of these challenges.
What can I do to Help Recovery?
Take it one day at a time
Learn to accept the person as he or she is "right now". Don't promise or expect that life will return to normal.
Try to stay flexible
Realize there is not just one right answer to any specific problem.
Tell your family member that he or she is valued. Allow full participation in all decisions that involve him or her. Work with your family member. Resist the urge to take on a parental or authoritative role.
Listen. Check in often to see how your family member is feeling and take time to listen to his or her answer.
Basic needs remain unchanged
Adults with brain injury have the same emotional needs as before:
- to feel loved
- to feel useful
- to feel needed
- to be treated as an adult
- to be treated with respect
Together You Can Do This
Help your family member on the path to participating in his or her own healing. Encourage your family member to explore new things. Help them have choice and control over his or her life whenever possible. Avoid helping with any activity that can be done independently, even if it takes more time for him or her to do it.
People need "say so" over their own lives. Even when you cannot give someone complete choice, for safety reasons, you can create the feeling of choice by saying, "Would you like to to do X or would you prefer Y?" with two safe options.
Keep Hope Alive
Finally, if there is just ONE thing that you can do to support the best possible recovery, it's to…Keep hope alive!
One fact is certain: support from family and friends is a big factor in the recovery and quality of life for individuals with brain injury. The challenges that come with brain injury provide opportunities to learn and grow. Relationships can strengthen. People with brain injury and their families can lead full and productive lives.