Complex Care

Caring for a Loved One with a Brain Injury

If you need to know how to best care for a loved one with a traumatic brain injury, we can help. Learn more with this article from Sevita.

Caring for someone with a brain injury takes experience, patience and understanding. When caring for a loved one with an injury that may affect speech, cognition, motor skills, behavior, memory, and mental health, it requires a considerate and thoughtful approach.

If you’ve found yourself in the position of caregiver for someone with a complex injury, like a brain injury, you’ve probably been facing questions that might seem overwhelming:

  • What’s the recovery time?
  • Will they recover?
  • What can I do to help?

Unlike a broken arm, the life changes that brain injury introduces cannot always be seen just by looking at someone. It can be challenging for you to understand what your loved one is going through as they struggle with day-to-day activities. This “hidden world” can make navigating a care plan difficult when you’re trying to help someone with a traumatic brain injury.

If you’re struggling to figure out how to best care for a loved one with a traumatic brain injury, we can help. But first, let’s cover what a traumatic brain injury is, some treatment options, symptoms, and more.

Two Types of Acquired Brain Injury: Traumatic and Non-Traumatic

When most people think of a brain injury, they think about the kind caused by an impact to the head, like a concussion. A concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury, or TBI. However, a TBI is just one type of acquired brain injury.

 An acquired brain injury, or ABI, is any type of injury to the brain that’s not hereditary, congenital, degenerative, or caused by birth-related trauma. An ABI can be either traumatic or non-traumatic, depending on the cause.

 The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke defines a traumatic brain injury as follows:

“Traumatic brain injury is a form of acquired brain injury that occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue.”

In comparison, a non-traumatic brain injury is caused by internal factors, such as a lack of oxygen, stroke, or exposure to toxins.

Traumatic brain injuries are a major cause of both hospitalizations and fatalities throughout the world. In the United States alone, there were 223,000 TBI-related hospitalizations in 2019.

Traumatic brain injuries can vary from mild to moderate or severe. This also means that symptoms will depend on the severity and type of the injury.

Mild TBI symptoms

Some symptoms of mild TBI may present themselves as:

  • physical symptoms, like headaches and vomiting, dizziness, or loss of balance.
  • sensory symptoms, including light or sound sensitivity.
  • cognitive symptoms, such as disorientation, mood swings, or difficulty sleeping.

Moderate to severe TBI symptoms

Moderate or severe traumatic brain injuries can have more extreme consequences, and survivors may experience:

  • physical symptoms, such as extended loss of consciousness, seizure, and loss of coordination.
  • cognitive symptoms, such as profound confusion, slurred speech, or even disorders of consciousness such as coma.

How is a Traumatic Brain Injury Diagnosed?

Diagnosing a brain injury will depend on the type and severity of the injury. In many cases, it can be more difficult to diagnose a mild injury than a moderate or severe one.

Successful diagnosis requires a medical exam from a qualified medical professional, which includes an evaluation of an individual’s thinking, sensory function, coordination, fine motor skills, eye movement, and reflexes.

To evaluate a person’s level of consciousness quickly, a scale known as the “Glasgow Coma Scale” was invented. It’s a 15-point test that helps medical professionals assess the severity of a brain injury by evaluating responsiveness to eye-opening, motor, and verbal responses. A total score from 3 to 15 is produced, with 15 representing less impairment.

Imaging tests, such as CT scans or MRIs, are also used to help health care professionals diagnose brain injuries and rule out additional damage by detecting bleeding or other changes in the brain.

How is a Traumatic Brain Injury Treated?

Just like diagnosis, treatment for traumatic or acquired brain injuries will vary greatly depending on the type and severity of the injury.

For a mild injury, rest and avoiding bright light or device screens is typically prescribed, along with some medication if headaches are prevalent. However, a person with a mild brain injury usually needs to be monitored closely at home for any persistent, worsening, or new symptoms.

Immediate emergency care will be necessary for moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries. The focus is on ensuring that the individual has enough oxygen and blood supply while maintaining blood pressure and preventing further injury to the neck or head.

Treatment methods include:

  • Medications, such as anti-seizure drugs, coma-inducing drugs, or diuretics.
  • Surgery to address problems such as removing blood clots, repairing skull fractures, or halting brain bleeds.
  • Rehabilitation for further recovery, including working with a physiatrist, physical and occupational therapist, and speech & language therapist, among other specialists.

How Do People Recover from a Traumatic Brain Injury?

Recovery from a brain injury looks different for everyone. Rehabilitation is a crucial part of recovery.

For many, a brain injury can cause the loss of basic skills that we often take for granted, such as walking, talking, thinking, and remembering. Rehab can help individuals recover these skills over time.

Some examples of care specialists include:

  • Physiatrists
  • Neuropsychologists
  • Speech-Language Pathologists
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Physical Therapists
  • Cognitive Therapists

There’s a lot that people can do for themselves, too. Those who are suffering from a brain injury may experience complications that can be mitigated with specific lifestyle changes.

For example, joining a support group can help patients learn new coping strategies in a safe space with those who have experienced similar complications. Keeping a consistent schedule and routine while getting daily physical exercise helps people return to their daily lives.

How to Care for Someone with a Traumatic Brain Injury

If you’re living with a loved one who has experienced a brain injury, you can take steps to help them through their recovery process.

Learn more about brain injuries

This first step helps you build your foundation for care—and it’s exactly what you’re doing right now.

It’s much easier to support people with brain injuries (or any other illness) when you understand how they work, know some typical symptoms to look out for, and what you can do to help.

Taking the time to understand what an acquired brain injury is and what it’s like for a person you support is the first step toward helping them recover.

Learn what triggers your loved one

For individuals recovering from a brain injury, triggers may vary. Some survivors are triggered by:

  • sudden or consistently loud noises.
  • severe sensitivity to light or sound.
  • crowded spaces with many people.

By understanding what triggers your loved one’s TBI symptoms, you’ll know what their limits are—and what you can do to help.

Help your loved one with daily tasks

People recovering from a brain injury will likely have trouble tackling more complex tasks independently. While successful rehab requires that you not do activities for someone, it’s important to help manage tasks by breaking them down into smaller pieces.

Not only will you help them get things done in a manageable way, but you’ll also help build their confidence and support their recovery.

  • Always be aware of their limits: not being able to complete a task can be frustrating.
  • Taking a break and returning to the task can be helpful.

Give your loved one some level of independence

You want to help your loved one recover—but you also don’t want to take away their ability to make choices. Giving your loved one a certain level of independence helps rebuild their confidence and gives them the will to keep moving forward.

Brain injury recovery means slowly returning to the old tasks they used to do easily before the injury. If you do everything for them, they will never get the practice they need to re-learn how to do tasks independently. Let your loved one try and do things without your help when it’s safe to do so, but assure them that you’ll be there if they need you.

Modify your home accordingly

If you’re providing in-home care, this is an essential element of recovery.

Just like you’ll need to build awareness of your loved one’s limits outside the home, it’s important to make small changes around the house that support their care plan. In addition, you’ll need to adjust your home to make it a safe place to recover with your loved one’s unique needs in mind.

  • Avoid additional injuries by preventing falls: Pick up small rugs or trip hazards on the floor.
  • Watch for transitions from one type of flooring to another: Changes in balance can cause someone recovering from a brain injury to become unstable on slick surfaces like wood flooring or tile.
  • Ensure hand railings on stairs are secure and based on recommendations from therapists.
  • Consider installing grab bars in showered areas where your loved one may need them most.
  • Place a bathmat on the shower floor to reduce slipping.
  • Address light sources and noise: Keep bright lights including computer, phone, and TV screens to a minimum, and keep noise from TVs and other devices down.

Blue light filters on computer or tablet screens and light control settings on smart devices can help with light sensitivity too.

For a loved one who has trouble remembering things, writing small notes and sticking them around the house is a loving way to support them. For example, leaving a note near the door reminding them of what items they need to leave the house with (keys, wallet, etc.) can help them jog their memory.

Sevita Can Help You Care for Your Loved One

Sometimes, individuals who experience a brain injury require specialized care, whether it’s long-term or short-term. Sevita’s Specialized Health & Rehabilitation Services can help you provide the care that your loved one needs to continue living a fulfilling life.

We do more than help people with brain and spinal cord injuries heal—we help them thrive. We support recovery with physical and occupational therapy, cognitive therapy, behavioral health services, complex medical care and so much more.

How can we help you and your loved one? Learn more about our Specialized Health & Rehabilitation Services today.

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