Life with a Brain Injury: Preparing Yourself and Your Family

Garry Prowe, Brain Injury Success Books
LIfe with a Brain Injury: Preparing Yourself and Your Family

This chapter on life with a brain injury is excerpted from Garry Prowe's book, Successfully Surviving a Brain Injury: A Family Guidebook.

In 1997, Garry's wife, Jessica, sustained a severe brain injury in an automobile crash. "At the time, I spent way too much time accumulating the information I needed, not only to understand the medical aspects of Jessica's brain injury, but also to handle the myriad insurance, financial, legal, personal, and family issues that accompany a serious blow to the brain. I recognized the need — that stil exists today — for a book that comprehensively addresses the wide variety of issues families face in the first few months after a brain injury.

"To research this book, I assembled a panel of more than 300 survivors, caregivers, and medical professionals who resonded to my email questions and reviewed portions of my writing.

"For us, this project is a labor of love. All profits fromt he sale of this book will be donated to brain injury organizations."

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The brain oversees everything we do:

  • How we move our body (physical)
  • How we perceive, recall, and process information (cognitive)
  • How we communicate with others (communication)
  • How we feel (emotional)
  • How we behave (behavioral)
  • How we interact with others (social)

It’s easy to see how a serious blow to the brain can have a devastating impact on the survivor and those around her.

As different parts of the brain control different functions, the impairments acquired by a survivor depend on the precise location and gravity of her injury. Since every injury is unique in the damage it causes, every survivor acquires a unique mix of complaints.

It’s impossible for a doctor to review your patient’s CT scans and MRIs and predict the deficits she will acquire. Certain functions, however, such as memory, language, and information processing, are lodged in multiple areas of the brain and are almost always affected by any serious injury.

Later in this section, I list the more common impairments of a serious brain injury, divided into the six categories described above. As you review these lists, remember, no one survivor will experience all of these complaints.

There is a powerful cause and effect relationship among the impairments produced by a brain injury. Some can be called primary; others can be called secondary.

Primary impairments are those directly related to brain damage. These include most of the complaints in the physical and cognitive categories. Secondary impairments are those that develop as a consequence of one or more primary impairments. Communication and social complaints mostly are secondary impairments. Emotional and behavioral complaints generally occur as both primary and secondary impairments.

This can be confusing. So, let’s consider five examples:

  1. Mary was a marathon runner; she now walks with a distinct shuffle (primary physical). This humiliates her (secondary emotional). So she rarely leaves her house (secondary behavioral and social).
  2. Susan was training to be a doctor. Her injury dashed her dream (primary cognitive). She is now depressed (secondary emotional) and not much fun to be around (secondary social).
  3. Changes in the chemistry of Beth’s brain cause her to be jittery (primary emotional). Medication helps, but the drugs cloud her already foggy thinking (secondary cognitive). She gulps Mylanta to quell her anxiety-driven heartburn (secondary physical).
  4. Nancy was an auctioneer. She now has a problem expressing herself (primary physical and cognitive, and secondary communication). She lost her job and is worried about paying the rent (secondary emotional). Her anxiety causes her to unconsciously tense her muscles, aggravating the pain in her spastic arm (secondary physical).
  5. Martha’s major complaints are disinhibition (primary behavioral) and impaired short-term memory (primary cognitive). She’s the life of the party. But, she lost her job as a waitress because she spent too much time flirting with the customers (secondary social) and mixed up her orders too often (secondary communication).

It is important to understand that secondary impairments can be just as debilitating as primary impairments.

Warning: Some caregivers tell me they preferred not to know what the ultimate outcome might be for their survivor. Others, like me, wanted to know all the possibilities right away: the worst case, the best case, and everything in between. If you’d rather not speculate about the future, that’s okay. Just jump to the next section.


Physical Impairments

Physical complaints are the easiest to detect and the quickest to be treated. There’s no hiding that somebody walks with a shuffle or has little coordination in her left extremities. While many physical deficits are permanent, others can be remedied or moderated with physical therapy and other types of treatment, such as exercise, surgery, and prescription medication, taken orally or injected into troublesome areas.

The one physical complaint every survivor experiences is fatigue, particularly during the early days of recovery and rehabilitation. The healing brain devours energy. The patient’s remaining get-up-and-go is gone quickly. The injured brain must work double-, triple-, or even quadruple-time to perform even simple tasks. In rehab, Jessica sometimes slept sixteen or more hours a day. Even today, she frequently needs eleven or twelve hours of sleep to re-energize herself.

Some of the other typical physical complaints caused by a brain injury are:

  • Headaches
  • Spasticity
  • Partial paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Chronic pain
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Poor endurance
  • Speech difficulties
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Changes in appetite
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Muscle weakness
  • Altered sexual response
  • Changes in appearance

Also, it’s not uncommon for survivors to find one or more of their senses — sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell — altered by their injury.

Finally, many folks living with brain injury are clumsy due to impaired muscle coordination, balance, and motor control.


Cognitive Impairments

Cognitive complaints, almost always, are the most disabling of the six types of impairments caused by a brain injury. They are most profound immediately after the injury when the survivor has very limited awareness.

During rehabilitation, cognitive abilities typically improve dramatically, but rarely fully. All but a handful of survivors of serious brain injuries experience major cognitive deficits.

In the past, it was believed that, after two years, people living with a brain injury made little or no progress in cognitive ability. New research, however, has demonstrated that recovery can, with effort, be a lifelong exercise.

Cognitive impairments — by themselves or in combination — cause many problems in daily life. Take reading, for example. One person has difficulty reading because her injury damaged the language centers of her brain. She can’t comprehend the meaning of many words. A second person struggles to read since her injury compromised her short-term memory. She can’t follow the flow of a story. A third cancelled her library card because her injury ravaged her ability to concentrate. She started a book twenty times and never got past the first page.

Neuropsychological testing is a tool rehabilitation therapists use to isolate the cognitive impairments — such as language, memory, and/or concentration — that cause a particular functional problem, such as difficulty reading.

Unlike physical complaints, which are easily diagnosed, cognitive impairments can be subtle. This is especially true with a package of higher-level cognitive abilities called executive functioning. We use our executive functioning abilities to do everything from making an egg salad sandwich to launching a spacecraft.

The survivor and those around her often don’t recognize major deficits in this area until she returns home and reenters the community.

Memory almost always is impaired by a brain injury. Four types of memory can be affected, singly or in combination:

  1. Short-term: the ability to hold a small amount of information for about twenty seconds
  2. Long-term: the ability to hold and retrieve information for as little as a few days and as long as a few decades
  3. Retrograde: the ability to recall events that occurred prior to the injury
  4. Anterograde: the ability to recall events that occurred after the injury

The most debilitating cognitive complaint is a lack of awareness of one’s deficits. Without this realization, the survivor sees no reason to work hard to recover her cognitive abilities and, thereby, remains seriously impaired. She may become belligerent as she is unable to understand why her life has become so difficult.

Other common cognitive complaints include deficits in the following areas:

  • Attention
  • Comprehension
  • Concentration
  • Decision-making
  • Initiation
  • Judgment
  • Self-monitoring
  • Spatial orientation
  • Language comprehension
  • Safety awareness
  • Information processing
  • Learning new material

You may find that your survivor dresses in the morning before showering or is overwhelmed at the idea of preparing a simple lunch of soup and a sandwich.

Her executive functioning abilities have been disturbed by her brain injury. These are the primary components of executive-functioning:

  • Analyzing
  • Prioritizing
  • Planning
  • Sequencing
  • Organizing
  • Directing
  • Multi-tasking
  • Monitoring
  • Reasoning
  • Evaluating
  • Troubleshooting
  • Problem-solving

Two common, but usually temporary, cognitive complaints are confabulation and perseveration. Confabulation, also known as false memory, is the confusion of imagination and memory. The patient, struggling to explain the gaps in her memory and her bewilderment and fear as she emerges from her coma, creates a, sometimes, bizarre fantasy. She doesn’t grasp that she has been injured and is in a hospital. Some survivors actually believe they are being held prisoner and are the subjects of strange experiments or sadistic behaviors.

Perseveration is the persistent repetition of a response — a word, a phrase, or a gesture, when the stimulus that triggered the response has disappeared. For example, the patient may respond to a question and then repeat the answer over and over, even well after the person who posed the question has left the room.

Communication Impairments

Physical and cognitive complaints routinely impair a survivor’s ability to communicate. The physical impediments include:

  • Illegible handwriting
  • Painfully slow handwriting
  • Slurred speech
  • Speaking too slowly or too quickly
  • Speaking too loudly or too softly
  • Impaired hearing and/or sight
  • Impaired verbal fluency

The cognitive impediments to communication include:

  • Inability to understand words
  • Reading impairment
  • Difficulty finding words
  • Difficulty expressing ideas
  • Verbal disinhibition
  • Difficulty getting to the point
  • Poor listening attention

Emotional Impairments

Emotional complaints arise either directly from the injury to the brain or indirectly as a reaction to one or more primary impairments. For example, one survivor is depressed due to damage to the part of the brain that governs emotions. A second survivor is depressed because she has trouble expressing herself and has lost nearly all her friends.

Often, when a patient slowly regains consciousness, she is in a pleasant mood as her view of the world clears. Later, when she begins to recognize the extent of her impairments, she becomes vulnerable to a wide range of debilitating emotions. These emotions can be treated — with full or partial effectiveness — through individual or group therapy, peer counseling, help from a support group, and/or medication.

The more common emotional complaints caused by a brain injury are:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Confusion
  • Denial
  • Depression
  • Egocentricity
  • Embarrassment
  • Frustration
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Psychosomatic pain
  • Restlessness
  • Self-esteem loss
  • Self-hatred
  • Stubbornness

Behavioral Impairments

As with emotional complaints, behavioral problems result from a combination of direct and indirect causes. Damage to the area of the brain that houses self-control and social awareness can rob the survivor of the filter that keeps her behavior consistent with socially accepted norms.

One survivor may throw a temper tantrum at the grocery store because she can’t find those last two items on her shopping list, and she is too tired to monitor her own behavior. Another survivor may act up in a movie theater because she can’t follow the plot of the film and doesn’t recognize that her fidgeting and complaining is annoying people sitting nearby.

Behavioral complaints, which can interfere with rehabilitation, range from simply annoying to the threat of bodily harm to the survivor and/or the people around her.

The more common behavioral complaints caused by a brain injury are:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Clinging
  • Complaining
  • Crying excessively
  • Cursing
  • Defensiveness
  • Destructiveness
  • Disinhibition
  • Immaturity
  • Impulsivity
  • Inflexibility
  • Intolerance
  • Overreaction
  • Paranoia
  • Physical aggression
  • Rebelliousness
  • Selfishness
  • Sexual inappropriateness
  • Sexual promiscuity
  • Under-reaction
  • Verbal aggression
  • Withdrawal

Sometimes, behavioral problems don't develop until the survivor returns home and expects her life to return to normal. They also can undermind a survivor's transition back into the community.

Behavioral problems can be tricky to treat and require considerable patience and understanding from others. Extreme behavioral impairments require highly structred treatment by professionals in an inpatient setting.

Social Impairments

Probably the most common social complaint arising from a brain injury is loneliness. It’s easy to imagine how a mix of physical, cognitive, communication, emotional, and behavioral problems can scare away old friends and frustrate finding new ones. This is particularly true among the largest group of survivors, young men just entering adulthood. Their buddies are quick to move on when their pal can’t keep up with them. Many survivors rely heavily on their families to satisfy their social needs.

Brain injury also is cruel to romantic relationships, especially newer ones. “You’re not the same person I fell in love with,” is heard frequently by people with a brain injury. Some survivors become self-centered and unable to recognize and respond to the needs of their partners. Some partners are unwilling to adjust to the transformation in their survivors.

In a culture influenced heavily by the beauty and witty repartee of television and film stars, many people discount the possibility of becoming friends with someone who has multiple impairments. This unfortunate bias limits a survivor’s chances to meet new people, especially those looking for romance.

Despite these obstacles, however, plenty of survivors on the panel remain happily married. Others have discovered love and marriage after their brain injury.
These are the primary complaints that create social barriers for survivors:

  • Visible physical impairments which make some people uncomfortable
  • Fatigue that limits social activities
  • Difficulty finding words in conversation
  • Difficulty interpreting customary social cues
  • Unemployment, which reduces social opportunities
  • An inability to drive or use public transportation, which keeps survivors at home
  • Emotional problems, such as anger, apathy, denial, depression, egocentricity, and paranoia
  • Behavioral problems, such as aggression, complaining, destructiveness, immaturity, selfishness, and withdrawal

Spasticity

Spasticity is a condition of abnormally increased muscle tone or the shortening and/or tightening of soft tissue muscles, tendons, and ligaments. A common symptom of serious brain injuries, spasticity is caused by damage to a particular part of the brain or tears in the bundles of nerves around the brainstem that control movement and sensation.

To appreciate what a spastic muscle feels like, concentrate on one of your muscles. Tense this muscle as if it's being worked to its limit. Then, try to imagine how you would go about your daily activities with this muscle permanently contracted.

A posture characteristic of spasticity is legs stretched out straight and stiff and arms bent up at the elbow. Other areas commonly affected by spasticity are the shoulders, elbows, wrists, fists, thumbs, feet, toes, knees, thighs, and hips.

The principal characteristics of spasticity are:

  • Extreme muscle tightness and spasms
  • Physical deformity or abnormal posture
  • Restricted movements
  • Pain, possibly extreme, potentially leading to secondary spasticity
  • Potential dislocation of a joint or organ
  • Skin ulcers
  • Functional limitations, such as
    • The inability to use a hand in daily activities
    • Difficulty with transfers, such as from a car to a wheelchair
    • Impaired gait
    • Impaired speech

The severity of spasticity, which can worsen with time, ranges from mild muscle stiffness to painful, crippling, uncontrollable muscle spasms. Spasticity can be a terrible problem, sometimes interfering with the patient’s ability to swallow, eat, speak, and eliminate waste. It also can be a major impediment to rehabilitation. Cold weather, fatigue, and multi-tasking can exacerbate the spasms.

For survivors who have extreme mobility impairments, spasticity, at times, can be helpful. Stiffness of the lower limbs can support the individual’s weight when transferring or walking.

Often, spasticity resolves with time and therapy, although it may never disappear. A combination of treatments is used to prevent the further shortening of muscles and to reduce the severity of the symptoms:

  • Daily exercise, including sustained stretching and range-of-motion movements
  • Electrical muscle stimulation
  • Orthotics
  • Casts or braces
  • Surgery to release tendons or to block the connection between nerve and muscle
  • Oral medication, which can result in sedation, weakness, and cognitive impairment
  • Injected medication, which can temporarily block the connection between nerve and muscle, but it has unpleasant side effects and can become less potent with time
  • a baclofen pump, which, when implanted into the body and programmed to dispense medication, can reduce spasms. A pump demands a considerable commitment of time and attention by both survivor and caregiver.

Seizures

Seizures or post-traumatic epilepsy also occur sometimes after a brain injury.

For decades researchers believed that seizures were caused by sudden and unpredictable abnormal electrical activity in the brain. New research suggests that chemicals released by the brain itself, in an effort to repair the injured site, may be the cause.

The symptoms of post-traumatic epilepsy depend on where in the brain the abnormality (electrical or chemical) occurs. Seizures can be confined to a small area or involve the entire brain. Their severity ranges from mild discomfort and disorientation to extreme physical and mental disability. Seizures can last from a few seconds to five minutes.

About ten percent of survivors develop post-traumatic epilepsy and experience continuing seizures. Patients with scarring on the brain from skull fractures, penetrating injuries, bruising, and focal bleeding, are at the greatest risk of having seizures.

A brain injury survivor usually will have her first seizure soon after her injury. The first seizure, however, can occur as much as four to twenty years after the injury, depending on which research you read.

A seizure can be a one-time event or a lifelong problem. Jessica had a seizure in the emergency room soon after her accident, but none since.

Most post-traumatic epilepsy responds well to anti-convulsant medications. Finding the best drug and dosage, however, can take time, and anti-convulsants can trigger unpleasant side-effects. Taking medication, however, is essential. Uncontrolled seizures can further damage the brain.

The symptoms of post-traumatic epilepsy can be subtle to extreme. They vary widely among people.

The subtle symptoms, which are known collectively as an aura, include the following:

  • A momentary disturbance in attention
  • A brief period of restlessness or disorientation
  • Sudden and unexplainable feelings of fear, anger, sadness, and/or nausea
  • An altered sense of hearing, smell, taste, sight, and/or touch
  • A feeling of being detached from the environment
  • Déjà vu (familiarity) or jamais vu (unfamiliarity)
  • Labored speech or the inability to speak
  • Brief loss of memory

In more serious cases, after experiencing an aura, a person might:

  • Stare into space or have a blank look
  • Be confused, unresponsive, and unaware of her surroundings
  • Act strangely by smacking her lips, swallowing, chewing, picking at her clothing, or wandering
  • Not recall the seizure afterward

With the most severe seizures, the person might exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Fall to the ground
  • Convulse violently with stiff and jerking movements
  • Moan
  • Breathe shallowly or stop breathing momentarily
  • Roll back her eyes
  • Bite her tongue
  • Lose bladder or bowel control

Given these symptoms, persons prone to seizures must avoid situations that can place themselves or somebody else at risk. Driving is the most inconvenient of these restrictions, which also include using power tools, climbing ladders, and swimming and bathing alone.

The Impact of Brain Injury on the Family

A brain injury places enormous stress on the survivor’s family. In the first days or weeks, the family is in crisis mode. Day-to-day routines and the needs of other members are cast aside as the family spends hours at the hospital. The focus of attention is on the patient. Everyone is battered by a wide range of emotions: worry, guilt, anger, helplessness, and grief, among others. Later, when the survivor returns home, each family member must learn to accommodate her impairments, adjust to new routines, and, possibly, assume new roles and responsibilities within the household.

There is no single correct way a family should act immediately after a brain injury. Some people are at ease and useful at the hospital. Others are too traumatized to approach the patient. Some people will spend most of their time at the hospital. Others will return to work or school, by choice or necessity. Everyone must adjust in his own way and at his own pace.

The circumstances of the injury may create tension. There may be guilt (“Why did I allow her to buy a motorcycle?”) or accusation (“Why weren’t you watching her?”).

If the survivor contributed to her injury, there may be anger (“How many times did I tell her to buckle her seat belt?”).

Issues among family members, unresolved before the injury, may explode under the stress of the situation. The strength and harmony of the family will be tested by the uncertainty of the survivor’s outcome:

  • How well will the patient recover?
  • How will an incomplete recovery impact the dynamics of the family?
  • How much will the medical costs and possible loss of the survivor’s income upset the family budget?
  • How will the family cope as members assume new and unfamiliar responsibilities?
  • How will the family manage when everyone returns to their own lives at school, at work, and in the community, but also must care for the survivor?

These tensions can be heightened if the patient is hospitalized far from home. The caregiver can feel imprisoned in a disagreeable hospital setting, lonely and isolated from family and friends, and guilty for not tending to responsibilities at home. The folks at home may suffer from the absence of two family members, especially if it is both parents.

Later, the family may feel isolated when the immediate crisis passes and relatives and friends return to their own busy lives and provide less support.

Adult children, who live away from home, might be torn between two families. They dearly want to help care for their injured sister, but they have more pressing obligations to their spouse, children, and employer.

Jessica and I have no children and I was retired at the time of her collision. So, I was able to focus my time and energy on her recovery and rehabilitation.

Most of the caregivers on the panel, however, were forced to juggle caring for their survivor, their children, their job, and other responsibilities. I have relied heavily on their input to offer the following advice for parents trying to cope with a brain injury in the family.

Coping with Emotions

A brain injury places great stress on every member of the household. If this stress is not addressed, it can tear a family apart. Your children will look to you as a guide, seeing from your words and behavior the gravity of the situation.

Here are nine suggestions for defusing emotional landmines before they explode:

  1. In general, be calm and in control.
  2. But, at times, show your emotions. This will tell your children that the emotions they are feeling are natural.
  3. Discuss your emotions with your children.
  4. Encourage them to talk about their feelings.
  5. Don’t give them the impression you expect them to be brave and not show their sadness.
  6. Listen carefully. Your children may talk about their emotions in a roundabout manner.
  7. Be careful with older children. Teenagers may appear strong and in control but be hurting desperately inside.
  8. If you sense a decline in the emotional health of your family, pick up a copy of Missing Pieces: Mending the Head Injury Family by Marilyn Colter, a journalist, mother, and insightful caregiver of her husband, a brain injury survivor. (See page 232.)
  9. If emotions are running wild, it’s probably time to consult a professional counselor.

Caring for Young Children

It’s understandable that you will concentrate your time and energy on your patient and will spend many hours at the hospital. It’s crucial, however, that other family members — especially young children — don’t feel forgotten. Here are nine ways to keep young children feeling loved and well cared for:

  1. For nearly all children, trying to keep their lives as normal as possible is the best advice.
  2. Help them stay in touch with friends.
  3. Be sure they have their usual enjoyable activities.
  4. Settle your children back into their normal school routine and inform their principal of the situation.
  5. Set aside one-on-one time with your children when you are home.
  6. If you can’t be home, set a time for a daily phone call to catch up with the latest news in their lives.
  7. Have somebody drive your children to their favorite activities. Try not to let these activities lapse.
  8. Ask somebody to relieve you at the hospital to allow you some quality time with your children.
  9. Don’t be surprised if the behavior of your children regresses as they compete for your attention.

What Do I Tell My Children?

You are the best judge of how much to tell your children about your survivor’s injury. Bear in mind, however, that even the youngest child knows a bad thing has happened and may imagine all sorts of horrors until his questions are answered. Here are ten ways to keep your children informed and prepared for an upheaval in family life and routines:

  1. Encourage your children to ask questions. Answer these questions as simply and accurately as you can.
  2. Fit your explanations to their level of language, maturity, and comprehension.
  3. Use concrete examples: “Your mother may have trouble speaking” or “She will be exhausted when she comes home.”
  4. When you don’t have the answer, admit it. Promise to find the answer.
  5. If you’re having trouble answering questions, find someone who can.
  6. Provide repeated opportunities for children to ask questions and to absorb what’s happened.
  7. Share new developments, good and bad, as they occur.
  8. Avoid well-meaning clichés like “Everything will be all right.” With a serious brain injury, everything will not be all right. You don’t want to create false hope to be cruelly shattered later.
  9. Be sure everyone grasps the gravity of the situation to the best of their ability. This provides time to adjust to the changes in your survivor before she returns home.
  10. Your children may have questions they are not comfortable asking you. See if they want to speak to someone else about your family member’s injury.

Bringing Children to the Hospital

You also are the best judge of whether your children will benefit from visiting your survivor in the hospital. Here are eight guidelines to keep in mind when weighing the pluses and minuses of a visit:

 Don’t force a child to visit an injured family member.

A possible exception to this rule is if the patient is alert and a visit with the child will be therapeutic.

 Prepare your child for what he will see at the hospital:

 

  • The patient’s appearance and behavior
  • The sounds and smells in her room
  • The wires and lines connected to her
  • The machines surrounding her
  • How he should act with her

 Let your child choose when and for how long to visit.

 Tell your child that it’s okay to be nervous or scared.

 Introduce your child to the doctors and nurses. This will give him an opportunity to pose questions to the experts.

 If he’s willing, encourage your child to help care for the patient. This may comfort both parties.

 If your child doesn’t wish to visit, he may feel guilty. Encourage him to participate in caring for your survivor in other ways, such as drawing pictures and sending cards and letters.

Children Growing Up Too Quickly

A brain injury in the family can force your child to grow up too quickly if he’s overloaded with new responsibilities. Be careful.

Giving Older Children a Role

Some older children will want to be involved in their family member’s recovery. This should be encouraged to the extent their maturity permits. Others will not. This is okay, but asking them to assume more responsibility at home is reasonable.

Your older child can do some or all of the following:

* * *

Checklist for Success #4: Preparing Yourself and Your Family


___ Have you decided how you are going to allocate your time among your survivor, your family, your job, and your other responsibilities?

___ Do you realize that doctors have different ways of assessing and treating brain injury? Some are more conservative than others at deciding when a patient has advanced a level on the Rancho Scale. [See page 154.]

___ Are you prepared for your survivor’s potentially disturbing transition from her coma [see page 59] to full consciousness? You may want to limit visits during this time.

___ Are you aware that when your survivor awakes she may not recognize and trust you?

___ Your survivor may confabulate or perseverate. See page 162 for descriptions of these two common behaviors when someone emerges from a coma.

___ Do you know that recovering from a brain injury is not a straight process? Your survivor likely will experience setbacks in her recovery and rehabilitation.

___ Are you aware that three parties—your doctor, the health insurance company, and the rehabilitation facility—determine the next step in your survivor’s recovery: inpatient rehabilitation, a skilled nursing facility, or home? [See page 155.]
___ Do you know that there are six types of impairments your survivor may suffer due to her brain injury?

___ Do you understand that there is a powerful cause and effect relationship among these impairments? Do you know the difference between primary and secondary impairments? If not, see page 158.

___ Do you know that spasticity [see page 167] and seizures [see page 169] are common physical symptoms of a brain injury?

___ Your survivor may have difficulty communicating with you and others. Communication impairments have many different causes. Some are listed on page 163.

___ Are you prepared for some emotional distress and possible behavioral problems as your survivor adjusts to her new condition? The more common emotional and behavioral complaints are shown on pages 164 and 165.

___ Do you know that loneliness is a very common complaint of people living with a brain injury? Social impairments are discussed on page 166.

___ Are you aware that a brain injury places enormous stress on the family? For ideas on handling this stress see page 173.
___ Have you thought about how your children will cope with this family crisis? Some suggestions for making this time easier for them are presented on page 174.

___ What should you tell your children about your family member’s brain injury? This also is discussed on page 175.

___ Should your children come to the hospital to visit your survivor? This question is addressed on page 176.

___ Your older children may want to participate in the care of your loved one. Some ways for them to help are listed on page 177.

___ Do you understand that the presence of a family member or a close friend during rehabilitation will motivate your survivor to work harder? Will you be able to perform this important job? You may want to ask family members and friends to clear their schedules to attend some rehab sessions with your survivor. [See page 197.]

Posted on BrainLine February 23, 2010

From Sucessfully Surviving a Brain Injury: A Family Guidebook by Garry Prowe, Brain Injury Success Books, © 2010 Garry Prowe. Used with permission. www.BrainInjurySuccess.org. You can contact Garry at info@braininjurysuccess.org.

Comments

Being a survivor of a TBI (passenger in car-thrown out sunroof & comatose 30 days) back in 1981---life is soooo hard and the older I get the more difficult it is to survive. This is now 2017 and I have NO clue how I made it. I had NO support system, everyone (family) ASSumed I was a-ok after I was able to walk and do things ie care for myself and my babies.... I was blessed with no seizures but that does not make my life dealing with people any easier... I can think the right words but my mouth will not say them. In the last several years I have become quite reclusive as people think because I don't talk much at all that I am conceited. When I do talk I will lose train of thought or just stare. I have been in west TN now for more years than I want to count and there are NO, NONE - ZERO doctors that cannot even dx the flu from a cold correctly. So... I live this journey alone. ---I have graduated from college 2 times (yes tech college) and because of my issue with communication I cannot be hired, so I wasted time and money and now I am OLD... I just PRAY that no one else goes through life alone after serious TBI again!!!

Was in a T-Bone vehicle accident 1 year ago. I take life one day at a time and cherish every moment, as I was also born with a congenital birth defect of missing top bone in neck, so I really shouldn't have survived being hit at 60 MPH rolling on side of car and then popped onto the roof went unconscious for a bit and hung upside down for a while. Had a great team of neurologists. :)  First was put on brain rest for 2-3 weeks (no electronics, no cell phone, no TV, etc. no reading no talking about emotional subjects, etc.) Doc said, if you are not completely bored out of your mind, your not doing it right. I could not talk right (mixed up letters in words) and could not walk unassisted for about a month and a half. The doctor made a wiggly snake like line from the top left of the page to the bottom right of the page and said to me...this is how the recovery will go...You will have a couple really good days, and then...Bam...You will feel like the week after the accident. It will get better but slowly and it will feel like you take two steps forward and three steps backwards. This has been true. At first I was also very emotional. Cried a lot, now I don't. At first I had migraines and now they are getting better. Language is sometimes still a bit of trouble and frustrating when I'm more tired. I have to take frequent brain breaks during my work and this helps me to not feel so brain taxed. I have some vertigo/balance issues as well but manage these.

Good luck to you all and this will get better and better and then you will find your new normal and so will your loved one's. They will have trouble understanding and don't know how to help, and want to, but will eventually find their new normal too. :)

Much love!

My mom has been in ICU for 5 weeks now from a major fall down 19 stairs in results of TBI. She is 52 as an LPN. They have put a VP Shunt and trach in to help her. She is now on 30% oxygen through a trach collar. She responds to her name and wants something in her hand at all times. I'm her 28 yo daughter and the only person helping. Anybody have advise on how to stimulate her brain? Things I a can do? She does seem frustrated when I call her mom or acts confused. They are about to send her to an Ltac unit to get her off the trach. I am just so lost because I don't know what to do? I don't have kids so I am not good at this. Holding my emotions are hard. Any advise would help! Thanks and God bless!

When a person suffers from a brain trauma, why does it change their physical appearance...their face usually does not look the same as before the injury.

I have only just come across this article and I will read again in full I am sure many times over. My daughter has an acquired brain injury - she has a condition known as Dandy Walker Syndrome ( a ballooning of the ventricle which takes over the cerebellum, in her case to be shunted for control) & complicated Hydrocephalus. In 2007 after almost a year of various interventions to stabilize the fluid in her ventricles during a procedure to remove all of the shunts, due to an infection she suffered an inter cranial infarction. She was extremely independent - had been married had 2 children, was a working independent single mum. And in a decision which is too long to go into here - it was wiped, everything erased except her family - it was strange but she didn't know who she was - but she knew her siblings, dad, me, & her kids - that was pretty much it. She couldn't talk, walk, read, or write. Didn't know how to care for herself. Over two years, 2 further surgeries, and 1 life threaten seizure I fully understand the writer's need for the information and desire to help other people with information & experience. Our case is different we have always had a "brain injury" of sorts from birth, but this new infarction the new "kid" on the block has left us exhausted as she doesn't fit the plan - she isn't in the category of going back to work or being responsible for herself - she has 24 hour care due to her vulnerability - but here is where we meet resistance from her -she doesn't know she is any different than before - she knows she has dandy walker and nothing there has changed - what she doesn't see is the work the effort to get back to where we are - the learning - the struggles - because time passes her in a blip - all of a sudden her children are older - now they are teenagers young adults - but she has missed the bits in between. daily it can be a struggle - different medications people trying to make her fit the box they want her in and people taking away her liberty because they don' have patience or understanding - not that they are cruel they just haven't learned that everyday is pretty much a clean slate till we can find the trigger to get on track for the day and she knows where she is. she is 38 now and I am still saddened by the lack of knowledge for families we had nothing and i have pretty much wrote our own pathway to encouraging a better life style - she is not an old lady top be fussed over and fetch tea for nor is she a child to be scolded nor does she lack intelligence to be treated with no understanding of the world  - she is in a crazy slow confused world that if you are patient and give her time she will catch up -

Thank you for writing this it helps me form the pathway even further. Brain injury is personal in every way no 2 are ever the same but having the information that helps provide a gage is extremely useful

Mums recently had 3 falls and resulting 3 seizures. She has altered a lot. We are awaiting MRI and neuropsychology appointments. This information is so very helpful. Especially as mum seems to be all those negative behaviors with only myself. This has helped me understand a lot about what is going on, which in the long run will help me to understand and I hope help.

I had a brain injury years ago in my late teens and I am still having severe memory issues... What can be done??

This is just what I needed. My husband started having memory issues about 16 months ago. We have had MRI and a echo of the brain. Nothing is advisable. He has finally been set for a neropyhc test in Sept. I think he had a brain injury but I don't know when it happened. Recently it has worsened. He ask questions that don't make sense. Are we married? Whose dogs are those? Etc. I can't wait for this test so we can get a diagnosis and maybe some treatment. He is only 57.

Hello to all and thanks for this remarkable article. I had Brain Aneurysm Surgery 11 mths ago. I feel so bless to still be here. Two Aneurysms one burst and one did not. I was 41 at the time and had never heard of an Aneurysm. I work out, eat pretty healthy so was really shocked when a very massive headache turned out to be a burst Aneurysm. Anyway I am here and I am grateful. My only concern is that I find I have become very verbally aggressive. Never use to curse or b short tempered. I seem to b the exact opposite of the person I use to be. Before the surgery I was a calm spirited person. This behavior started like 3 mths ago, I decided to monitor it and it keeps getting worse, that's why I am constantly online searching for articles and was really happy I found this one. I just hope I can have the old me back but if not I will just have to live with the new me and remember it could have been worse. One more appointment with my surgeon so I will mention this new behavior to him. God bless us all and thank you and the guys for all your hard work. Only very detailed article I have seen online.

I have had a brain injury in1992. A contrecoup injury. Even now experience daily problems. This has helped me so much. I was divorced and my family out of town. They had no idea the information I just read. I had to take my children also in wreck to follow-up appts. as well as go back to work. Good thing I worked in hospital as Respiratory Therapist in ICU so doctors could always monitor ne. I still don't remember the date daily. No short term memory, I can read a whole book now. I am retired and blessed. Thanks

Just reading the excerpt from the book helps for me to realize that my husband's TBI recovery is not unique.  After the initial hospital recovery from the coma, and the 5 weeks of rehab, he was only able to stay at home for a week before the angry out bursts sent him back to the hospital, and now a skilled nursing facility.  I feel over whelmed with trying to visit and keep up the home, job, bills.  But then I think that I need to get a grip, because I am not the one with the injury.


 

My husband has now been classified as having Aquired Brain Injury(ABI) caused by Multiple Sclerosis ...it has taken many years to be recognised and acknowledged but now that it has been diagnosed I can see every element of brain injury discussed in your article. It is classified as "severe injury" rquiring 24/7 care and was obviously not an expected outcome for MS...just unlucky i guess but do keep shouting if you recognise or experience any of these problems. I am finding it easier to deal with and care for my loved one now that I have a formal diagnosis and everyone realises that he isnt just being difficult(which I always recognised).Be aware that Brain Injury isnt always the result of an accident

Since my Accident in 1994 when I ran into a van at 70+ Kmh on my bicycle i have suffered with brain injury. Initially it was very severe but over time it improved a bit. Improvement is only possible if you do something to force it to happen. 
My biggest problems relate to managing time, being isolated from society - I really dont care much about interacting with people and am happy if I dont have to do this. It is very difficult dealing with others and keeping up with conversations.
From my early experience, I can remember though how everything was so slow and I was left behind. By the time I started to grab at a comment the conversation had moved on. Now 21 years later I still have this problem but can disguise it better.
My wife suffers the most because of the loss of control of Anger and the simple meaningless thing can set this off. It is not possible to stop it even though I see it as it is happening. This is so frustrating from my side. It is like someone else is in control and cannot be stopped until they are finished. 

Thank you for this ARTICLE X

There is a treatment! No lie! Go to www.homeopathicwonders.com or www.marsvenus.com I had a TBI 18 years ago & a few since...I struggled for 2 years then I got better, but not where I was previously. I felt like I was walking through water chest deep & everything was a struggle. It was Chutes & Ladders...I would make progress then have a setback. Fortunately God has never left my side. God has blessed me with amazing experiences & a unique perspective, but I am grateful to have found a homeopathic treatment to balance out neurotransmitters (ex: serotonin is your "Happy" chemical, dopamine is your "Motivation" chemical. We have 50 neurotransmitters). An imbalance of these chemicals can result in a high risk of developing Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, ADHD, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, etc...or so I understand. I am not a doctor, but it makes sense after all of my research. The treatment is inexpensive & I want to do it again! It only took me 18 years to find the answer that not one doctor could tell me. Why don't more healthcare professionals know about this? Spreadthe word & God :-)

Neurogenesis is the `new' brain cell formation. They appear throughout life but are found in much greater numbers after an insult to the brain. Unfortunately most die but some take up where cell death has occurred. When there has been a severe memory loss (e.g. retrospective autobiographical loss following `shock treatment', boxing and other repetitive injuries), it is the `connections' built up over a lifetime that have gone, usually forever. But, new pathways can be built using current rehab processes, including repetition. I lost my tennis game and still have problems in `crossover' type exercises, but have been re-patterning slowly over 14 years. It wasn't until I noticed 12 months ago that my `serve (tennis) was automatic, that I realised this. But my memories of my children growing up, my skills as an artist and writer (novels, stories, plays & screenplays), have never come back. Two neuropsych tests 3 years apart (2003 & 2006), confirmed brain damage, particularly in non-verbal performance, (creativity). Over the last year or so, I have some increasing memory lapses, mostly ideas and words that are gone before I can write them down. If they come back I don't know about it because I `lost' them. The neurologist asked me if these phenomana happened when I was driving but I don't know because it's only when I'm with someone else who notices that I realise that something happened. I wish the medics would see past their assessment that the increasing problems are minor. They are, but they are new and changing. It's like someone saying, okay, that's only a small mole & you're saying but it's a NEW mole & it turns out to be melanoma. While they're calling you a hypochondriac, you're quietly dying. Good luck all. There are techniques to use until the neurogenesis cuts in (I hope). Mind you, they're not too sure if they cause epilepsy, so, swings & round abouts. 

i suffer memory loss because of a bad blow to my head which was inflicted on me by someone else..i get very annoyed when i cant remember simple little things and that was two years ago and its not getting any better..

I was a successful Art Tutor until I caught Encephalitis in 2004. I have not touched a brush, paint or pencil since. My left side of my body, leg and arm is useless and I suffer really badly from Anxiety, abnormal shaking and therefore agoraphobia. I feel my life has been taken away from me, it is so hard to feel positive about anything these days......I can no longer even handwrite. Denise.

What about brain neuroplasty? The ability of the brain to develop new pathways. Also, I have even been hearing that new brain cells might generate. If a person after a TBI was able to really focus on brain health/restoration, couldn't there be improvement in many of these symptoms? 

My tutor worked for 5 years, 2-3 hrs a day to return me from a Glasgow 3. I've passed 6 post-secondary courses, won provincial awards in two sports and made giant leaps in adult things and all were noted. Start with the basics and move up slowly as you did when you were first maturing. Brain injury is not the end but the start of a new life!

I feel so blessed as I accidentally came on this site.

My daughter  (17 yrs at the time) Jeniece was in a vehicular accident  Aug. 2012 and suffered diffuse Axonal, severe brain injury, to the brain stem. Everything you mentioned in this article is  so on point and accurate. I would love to get this book to get more information and testimonies from people who have walked this road.

Thank you so much for your  wealth of information and experience in this area.

Denise Sealy

Barbados

It is a relief to have found this site.  My husband suffered grand mal while in hospital while  detoxing from Klonopin and alcohol. For the following 6 months he was in 2 hospitals, 1 nursing home and finally a last hospital to learn how to talk, walk, and to generally function physically and mentally.  He recovered very well for 11 months and, curiously, took on another voice (It was like having Christian Slater in the house during that time) for about 6 months.  During his recovery he was able to work with carpentry tools in our workshop, design and build a new kitchen here at home, making all cabinets to perfection.  I thought, wow, that wasn't so bad.  At 11th month, new challenges began with auras and two more grand mal seizures followed by many auras,  We worked through Kepra, Depakote, and Topomax moving from one to the other, mixing one with the other and now back to only Depakote he has begun having up to 8 auras a day.  It's now time to call the MD about this to see what to do next.  His affect has remained calm, content while discouraged, and continues to do all the food shopping and meal preparations serving superb meals at the end of each day.  I think we may be entering a new phase of the challenge and am very grateful to find this site.  Family has picked up some crucial expenses and I'm sure will buy the books recommended.  My husband has accepted our new life more easily than I have.  I am sadly resentful to have lost my daily freedom to be me and the workshop sits empty of his presence and the sounds of rewarding creativity.  I am somewhat fearful of our future wondering who will take care of me as my aging presents new challenges.  We will move forward, more bonded than ever, into a future I had not envisioned.   So, thanks to the reading on this site and to all of you, we will go forward into this great unknown, with less trepidation.  Thank you, Annie

My neurologist has just told me I have multiple brain injury issues going on. These are due to multiple MVA's in the past. I have been suffering for years and with all of my symptoms and agony, not 1 doctor or specialists (including other neurologists) every mentioned TBI. I am now scheduled for current MRI, CT scan, some type of brain wave test and will start working with a Speech Language Therapist. I have been suffering since I had my St MVA 17 years ago and have had 2 additional MVA's since - none of them my fault. 

I would like to thank you for putting this book and article together. I have only read the article so far. I will be ordering your book. The article is right on 100%. Almost everything you have in your article is or has affected me. Thank you so much for taking the time and energy to collect the data necessary to put this together. I just can not imagine how many people there are out there like me who are suffering in pain and misery and doctors think they truly are "crazy" and it is just "in their head". I have had multiple doctors indicate in their medical notes just what I stated - it's in my head and I am just a hypochondriac. 

Thank you again and may God Bless everyone and give us and our families the patience needed to survive this travesty.

THANK YOU!!!! I had brain surgery for Epilepsy in 1990 and I have been searching the INTERNET almost obsessively to try and find a 'plain English' article about what life is/may be like AFTER surgery/a brain injury. I no longer have seizures, but I have other deficits that I am trying to understand still. I will try and look for your book in my local Chapters. I can't do Amazon etc., due to no credit card. Bless you for your work and for what your family went through. Sheri
My husband suffered a brain injury on April 6 2013, he has progressed well I think, there are many problems though with anger, depression and things to that nature, my biggest issue is that he is withdrawing from me, i feel like our marriage is falling apart day by day, does anyone have any advice on this situation. I do know that he has not accepted this accident as part of his life and I dont think that he wants to.
I lived with a TBI spouse for 12 years, during that time no one ever mentioned to me or did I know that His violent rages were associated with the TBI, blackouts were common following such an event. I, felt to blame For His rages. I finally divorced Him after 17 years of marriage. This article would have been invaluable to us. Thank You for this very informative article, I'm sure that in the future it could help couples going through this. God Bless!
To the person who commented back in June 2012, your situation is remarkable just by the little bit you posted! Right now, there is a little boy, Tripp Halstead, who has suffered a severe TBI on Oct 29 2012. Like his page on FB to follow this families story, incredible family he has behind him helping him get better!! God Bless to you all!! Jessica A. San Antonio
Thank you thank you!!!! I had a burst brain aneurysm ten years ago. I am very good at faking I'm fine but I saw myself in so many of your points. God bless us all!!
Ten weeks after a serious bicycle accident, I am finding out more and more about TBI and some of its affects on me and my loved ones. Friends believe that I am back to normal. Family knows this is not the case. Every week is a new experience for me, but I move ahead.
Quality information! I will be sharing this article with our members living with seizures as a result of TBI. You are doing a good work. Keep it up! I look forward to positive results from bringing this to our members at National Seizure Disorders Foundation in order to help them understand and take positive action in living with brain injury. Peace - Tonya Heathco,CEO National Seizure Disorders Foundation http://nationalseizuredisordersfoundation.org
I was hit by a car last year and suffered severe traumatic brain injury (my GCS was 3), they had to remove 2 pieces of my skull to relieve the brain swelling. I guess I must be lucky or something because the best news (should I not die) that they could give my husband was that I would be a vegetable in a nursing home for the rest of my life. Such was not the case. I'm back at work, my brain functions are pretty normal (not as good at multi-tasking as I used to be, but I'm sure this will improve), I'm not overly sensitive or depressed, and generally really happy to have made it! I enjoyed this piece very much, and just wanted to say thank you. =)
This has been a great help for me as caregiver to my husband who has cognitive deficits, short term memory loss, antegrade and retrograde amnesia, impulsivity, and poor judgment from resection of a colloid cyst. Thank you.

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