6 Simple Ways to Help Family Members with Traumatic Brain Injuries
When it comes to serious physical injuries, a brain injury ranks among the worst. The hours, days, weeks, and months following this type of injury can be difficult for your loved one and the rest of your family.
Brain injuries can vary in severity and often can result in a wide range of symptoms, including headaches, changes in mental status or personality, memory loss, speech difficulties, seizures, or a host of other complications.
Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) compose just one category of brain injury. These injuries occur when an external force of some kind deals a blow, crushes, or penetrates the head. These injuries can include:
- Closed Head Injury: Also known as a closed brain injury, this type of head injury deals a sharp blow to the head that batters the brain but does not penetrate it. A concussion is a classic example of a closed brain injury.
- Open Wound Brain Injury: Also known as a penetration brain injury, this type of damage is less frequently seen but is extremely serious. Someone with this type of injury risks brain exposure and infection through the breakage of the skull.
- Crushing Brain Injury: Often considered the most dangerous and life-threatening form of TBI, a crushing injury tends to be the least common and involves the crushing of the skull and brain — typically between two solid objects.
When a family member suffers a TBI, it can be hard to know what to do or how to react. Your loved one may seem different or “off;” you can see that they’re struggling, but you may not know what to say or how to help them. Adjusting to life with a TBI will be difficult for them and for you.
In cases like this, it’s important to know that you are not alone. It is estimated that 2.8 million people sustain traumatic brain injuries each year in the United States. Of those individuals:
- 2.5 million are treated and released from an emergency department;
- 282,000 are hospitalized; and
- 50,000 die of their injuries.
When you’re facing this kind of situation, what are some of the things you can do to help your loved one deal with their traumatic brain injury? We’ve put together a list of tips of traumatic brain injury help for the family of someone who suffers from this type of injury:
1. Be as Patient as Possible with Your Loved One
Brain injuries are diverse and their side effects are often unpredictable. As such, as basic as this may seem, it’s imperative that, as a caregiver, you remain as patient as possible with your loved one during this time. They may seem very different from one day to the next, and some days will be better than others.
Trying to be patient can present a challenge, as you may find yourself needing to tell them the same things repeatedly. However, it’s important to remember that your loved one is going through what may be the worst time of their life; they need your love, patience, and support, not your negativity or judgment.
Also, don’t take it personally if they randomly seem agitated or angry with you. Expressing confusion, frustration, and other negative emotions is not uncommon for patients after they suffer a TBI. For example, damage to the temporal lobe or frontal lobe regions of the brain often results in issues controlling “negative” emotions.
2. Help Your Loved One Become Organized
Memory loss is a common side effect of a traumatic brain injury. If your loved one suffers from memory issues as a result of their injury, it may be hard for them to remember where they put things, appointments they need to keep, or remember how to accomplish everyday tasks.
This is where you can step in and help them become more organized, depending on the severity of their TBI. However, just be sure to do this respectfully so they don’t feel overwhelmed or like you’re being condescending or controlling.
Some of the ways that you can help include:
- Helping your loved one come up with lists to help them stay organized;
- Labeling cabinets, drawers, baskets and other areas to help them remember where they can find things;
- Explaining activities as much as possible before engaging in them, and reviewing each of those steps as you’re doing them;
- Teaching them how to set calendar reminders on their cell phone; and
- Offering to drive them to their appointments.
3. Get Them out of the House
After a TBI, your loved one may just want to stay home and do nothing. This, in combination with their physical injury to their brain, may lead to feelings of anxiety or depression. It’s important for people with these kinds of injuries to get them out of the house for a few hours.
However, just keep in mind that wherever you choose to take them, it shouldn’t be somewhere that will exacerbate their sensitivities to light and sound, won’t jostle their head, or increase any potential discomfort they may feel about being in large crowds, etc. Somewhere quiet, such as a small restaurant or massage parlor, is usually a good idea.
4. Provide a Sense of Normalcy and Structure to Their Life
Traumatic brain injuries change almost everything in a person’s life. Your loved one has found themselves in an unfamiliar situation and likely feels out of place, uncomfortable, fatigued, and uncertain about how to act or react.
Some recommendations from the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC) for how to do this include:
- Establishing and maintaining a daily routine;
- Placing objects the person needs within easy reach;
- Encouraging your loved one to rest frequently;
- Being as natural with the person as possible to help them to maintain their former status in the family;
- Speaking with them in your normal tone of voice (don’t talk down to them) and involving them in conversations to help them continue to feel involved and social;
- Including the person in family activities;
- Keeping a calendar of activities visible on the wall and/or add them to their phone calendar; and
- Maintaining a photo album with labeled pictures of friends, family members, and familiar places can help them reacquaint themselves.
5. Provide Some of the Comforts of Home
If your loved one is at a hospital in a coma or is living in a rehabilitation center, they’re in a very unfamiliar environment and are likely to feel frightened, overwhelmed, frustrated, and/or exhausted. To help them feel more comfortable, you can provide them with some familiar and comforting items, such as quietly playing some of their favorite music, bringing them their favorite blanket, a favorite snack, or even a stuffed toy.
Spend time with them so they don’t feel alone, but also be sure to give them plenty of time to rest and recover.
6. Offer to Run Errands for Your Loved One
Your loved one may feel fatigued or lack energy if they’ve sustained even a mild TBI — or they may struggle with some everyday tasks if they’ve sustained a more severe injury. You can offer to run errands for them, such as going to the store to pick up milk, food, or even toilet paper that they need. Or, you can even clean their kitchen or prepare some food for them.
Your loved one may need the help but may not want to ask for it due to fear that they’ll come across as needy or unable to do things for themselves. By asking them instead of waiting for them to ask you, you’re helping them with what they need while enabling them to still feel more independent.
If your loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury, it is hard to stand by and watch them struggle. Check out our simplified guide to traumatic brain injuries to learn more about what your loved one is going through and how best to help them throughout their recovery.
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Spinal Cord Team