What Brain Injury Survivors Want You to Know
Traumatic brain injuries can lead to a number of ongoing symptoms and complications for the survivors. Understanding those complications and what it means for the survivor can help you engage more personally with them while being more considerate of their needs.
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There are several common misconceptions regarding brain injuries and survivors that people have developed based on the way patients may act following their injury. These misconceptions have grown out of a lack understanding. It isn’t necessarily your fault if you don’t understand the needs of the survivor, but you can gain a better understanding by simply being aware of their situation and asking questions when you aren’t sure what to do.
Here are a few of the common misconceptions and the reality behind them:
- Brain Injuries cause the survivor to become more anti-social
- Although they may sometimes avoid social situations, survivors are not trying to be anti-social. Loud noises and large crowds can quickly overwhelmed the brain. Avoiding certain situations may develop as a coping tool. Sometimes, it is best to socialize in small group settings where there aren’t a lot of distractions.
- Additionally, it may be difficult for them to focus if there are multiple people talking simultaneously. Being able to filter out one voice to focus on the other can be difficult. A lot of background noise can also make it difficult to focus on one voice and follow a conversation.
- Finally, those that have survived a brain injury may get tired faster than they used to. Over stimulation from constant motion and sound can quickly become overwhelming and cause fatigue. The individual may need to get to a quiet place to rest and regroup.
Brain injuries don’t cause Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Following a brain injury, the survivor will need to relearn a lot of tasks that were once common. In doing so, they will need to repeat certain behaviors over and over again in order to retrain their brain. This repetitive behavior does not mean they developed OCD. It is simply their way of trying to remember exactly how to do something.
Survivors don’t need you to step in and try to help with everything
Although it is also kind to offer to help, it is not helpful to just step in and start doing something for them. The best approach you can take is asking if you can help or offering a suggestion if the person seems stuck.
Survivors don’t always want to be left alone
While survivors may have periods of time where they just want to be alone to recharge, they don’t want to be abandoned. There are times it will be difficult to be there for them, but they need people around them to be cheerleaders. They need to be surrounding by people that are filled with hope and believe in their ability to regain functions they lost due to the injury.
There is hope once the damage is done
There is hope. The brain can work in weird ways, and even doctors are continually surprised by patients that have recovered to a far better degree than expected. Never assume that there is no hope or that the functions lost will never be redeveloped. Even with severe brain injuries, there is hope. Being surrounded by people with positive attitudes will help significantly in the recovery process.
Once the patient is recovered, things may not be the same
Recovering from a brain injury takes a really long time. Far longer than the time spent in a hospital or rehabilitation center. For many, full recovery never happens. There will always be things that are harder than they were before the injury or not possible at all. Don’t assume that just because the person is out of the hospital that everything is better.
Things to be Aware of
Survivors need plenty of rest. They aren’t being lazy, they just need more breaks than they did before. Often times, simple things can be mentally exhausting and being tired makes that dramatically worst. Another thing to be aware of is that some days are better than others. Even if a brain injury survivor looks okay, that doesn’t mean they are okay. Recovery takes a long time. Sometimes thinking of the right word to say or completing a simple task takes a long time. The most important thing you can offer is patience.
Sometimes the survivor will need to take unexpected breaks. It is important not to try to push them when they say they need a break. Throughout recovery, it is important for patients to be aware of their physical and mental limits, and it is equally important for the people around them to respect those limits. You aren’t helping in their recovery by pushing them when they are saying they need to stop.
Survivors of brain injuries may develop behavior problems that are triggered by various situations. These are not problems they can control and they may simply be a symptom of a deeper problem. For example, a behavior problem may be triggered when the individual is in pain, overly tired, over-stimulated, or overwhelmed.
What Not to Say or Do
It is important not to make the individual feel like it is their fault they are not farther along in their recovery. Every brain injury is different, so the path to recovery is also going to look different. Refrain from making comparisons between the person you are interacting with and stories of brain injury recoveries you have heard about from others or online.
Do not say or do anything that makes the individual feel you are annoyed by their limitations. Take a minute to imagine how it must feel to struggle doing a simple task that you could do without even thinking about it prior to the injury.
Don’t take over a task without asking if you can help. Having a brain injury does not mean the survivor now needs to be treated like a child. Show respect by offering to help, but giving them the room to try if they decline your help.
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