For Families & Caregivers

Effects of Brain Injury

As how a brain injury affects who a person once was, it also affects how a primary caregiver and family once were.

Relationships, family roles, and responsibilities can experience change. … A brain injury can change a family’s functionality, balance, dynamics, harmony, and landscape forever.

An expert on acquired brain injury once said it is “a family affair.” Few families who’ve experienced acquired brain injury would disagree. It affects every single member and almost every part of family life. The trauma of the hospital, stresses of returning home, and the day-to-day strains of managing the household and finances can all place an enormous burden on families. Acquired brain injury is different from some other conditions in that its effects can be very sudden. Families may have to adjust to enormous changes in circumstances over a very short space of time.

Although each individual is unique, the changes resulting from a brain injury often have similarities. Some of these can include difficulty with memory loss, impaired reasoning skills, and a tendency toward “one-track thinking.”

Imagine not remembering names and faces of lifelong friends or turning on a burner with a pot and not remembering having done so.

Many persons with brain injuries will also have physical disabilities such as paralysis of the limbs, loss of vision, and loss of hearing. Some people experience varying degrees of speech impairment. Others may be able to speak, but due to cognitive impairments, they have difficulty organizing their thoughts into meaningful speech. Some people lose their sense of smell, suffer from headaches, or have to cope with having seizures. It is quite difficult to rely on others to plan your day.

Emotional effects vary as well as the person with a brain injury will see changes in emotional control. This may be related to the brain injury or to the frustrations that the person feels as he tries to adapt to his new self.

Realization of the effects of the injury combined with the increased dependence on others or a loss of control over one’s life may be cause for depression.

The social consequences of a brain injury can be devastating.

Many people report losing friends and having difficulty cultivating and maintaining new friendships. These difficulties may result from the person experiencing problems with communication. Imagine the frustration of having trouble remembering ideas and communicating them coherently and logically during a conversation. The loudness of the speech and knowing when it is appropriate to speak are examples of social skills that we all take for granted. Also, subtle social skills may be lost.

It is essential to note the strength and character of our brain injury survivors. Once again, all persons are unique, with varying injuries, personalities, and supports available. Although there may be a tremendous amount of loss to cope with, many people with brain injuries remain determined, sensitive, and positive to their approach to life.

Although the effects of brain injury may make it necessary for the injured person to have assistance for up to 24 hours in a day, families often remain or become the primary caregiver and support person. Families often are left to cope on their own, with little understanding of the effects of the injury and the demands of living with an injured family member. Families need the support of others who understand the stress within these family systems.

Treatment and Rehabilitation

Just as no two people are alike, no two brain injuries are alike.

Appropriate treatment and rehabilitation will vary according to the needs of the individual. Programs and treatments change, as a person’s needs change. It is important to recognize that “more therapy” does not make a person “better,” but that “appropriate” therapy may. A person with a brain injury may transfer to different facilities throughout the recovery process.

A rehabilitation program would generally look at the following components: cognitive, behavioral, vocational, educational, community re-entry, and recreation. The active involvement of family members and friends throughout the rehabilitation process is a crucial component to achieve maximum success. Some provinces have a “continuum of services” where the person with a brain injury will go through the hospital, rehabilitation centre, back home, and will then use the services of specific community programs.

What Can You Do?

The effects of a brain injury can be varied and unique as the individuals who sustain them.

Since brain injuries occur in different areas of the brain with varying degrees of severity, no two people will be affected in the same way. An injury to the brain may affect a person in several ways, including his personality, thinking, communication, or mobility.

We cannot see many of the changes that a survivor of a brain injury experiences. It is often difficult for others to understand and accept differences in personality and thought processes, as these changes are not visible.

Some of the more common effects of a brain injury are changes in memory, concentration, response time, planning and problem solving, initiative, flexibility, insight, impulsivity, control of anger, talking, behavior, dependence, emotional stability, depression.

Following a brain injury, the person may experience any number of these effects in varying degrees. Individuals working with a person with a brain injury will need to be particularly sensitive, observant, and flexible.

Survivors Of Brain Injury Are Saying:

  • “Courage is what it takes to keep going after a brain injury.”
  • “Treat us with dignity, respect, and love in spite of our challenges.”
  • “We rely on your good advice.”
  • “Tell us when improvement will take a long time.”
  • “Get to know us as a person and learn to communicate with us.”
  • “Find out what motivates and keeps us going.”
  •  “We need your encouragement to do our best.”
  • “Positive feedback is far better than patronization .”
  • “We need to take a risk sometimes.”
  • “It is difficult for our old friends to ‘handle’ the injury and it is hard for us to make new friends.”

Resources

“Head Injuries Happen to Families”

Brain Injury Hub U.K.: How acquired brain injury can affect the family

BrainLine: Family Change After Brain Injury

Support for Caregivers

At Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia, we understand how profoundly a brain injury can affect the entire family.

  • Family, spouses, and supporters are welcome at ALL of our programs both in Metro and through Chapter Activity.
  • Another 6-week Caregiver Series will be offered in January 2020 in Metro and our “Understanding Brain Injury 101” series being held in January and April in communities across Nova Scotia will be very helpful for caregivers.
Menu