Why is there so much uncertainty and anxiety after a family member sustains a brain injury?
There is no question that traumatic brain injury brings uncertainty into the life of the person with the injury as well as their family. Most of us have routines that enable us to feel more comfortable and relaxed that give us a sense of security and a sense that our lives are a little bit more predictable. Most people don’t expect to have a brain injury. That’s not something that people really think about when they leave the house to go to work in the morning or to come home from work at night or when they’re driving somewhere on vacation.
People don’t expect to have a brain injury. Unfortunately brain injury brings unpredictability into everyone’s life; the person with the injury, their spouse, their children. The person who’s working who has a severe brain injury is not likely to be back at work for another three to five years, if they’re that lucky. And many people are not able to go back to work.
And it raises all these questions: who will support the family, how will we support our family, how will we pay the rent, how will we pay off our credit card bills, how will we have enough money to send our children to college? We were saving for their college education. Where will we live if the bank is threatening to repossess their home, where else can we live? Can we afford to rent an apartment? Can we find some relatives who will take us in because we don’t have any place to live?
And so this uncertainty unfortunately creates a lot of anxiety. And with some of the uncertainty, even though research has provided a lot of information about the likelihood, for example, of going back to work, general predictions don’t often help in unique individual cases. So it is hard to predict if a person will go back to work. Will they make as much money as they made before? Probably not. Will they be able to work full time? Probably not. Will they be able to go back to work in three years, five years, or ten years?
There’s a lot of uncertainty and even the doctors often have a difficult time making those predictions. And in the absence of those predictions people, everyone in the family experiences anxiety.
Jeffrey Kreutzer, PhD a Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry at VCU. He serves as Director of Virginia's TBI Model System, a position he has held since 1987. He also coordinates VCU Health System outpatient services for families and persons with brain injury.